Today, many students attend university to acquire skills and knowledge that are intended to prepare them for future employment.
This trend is understandable. After all, in this era of financial turmoil and massive layoffs, the majority of young people view future job security as one of their most pressing priorities in life.
Also, across the world, students, tuition costs are rising each year, despite the tumultuous economic meltdown. These days, it is no exaggeration to say that pursuing higher education is very much like making a major investment; thus, university students and their parents tend to expect reasonable rates of return, which can be, to some extent, quantified by the graduates，starting salaries and benefits.
The societal demand is there as well. Being bogged down in stagnancy or recessions, societies are hoping for more productive and more responsive workforces to haul them out of the quagmire.
In spite of all these, I wish to point out that merely equipping students with job skills may defeat the very purpose of universities. It is true that higher education should meet the social demand for a more powerful workforce. Yet realistically, it would be hard for university administrators and faculty to identify accurately what technical skills and knowledge will be needed three or four years from now, when most technologies have been updating themselves on a daily basis.
What will also be at risk is students’ capacity to innovate as true innovations require thorough understanding of the fundamental theories guiding their predecessors.
The main function of a university in this age of crisis, therefore, should be to build core curricula that stress the cultivation of employment skills and at the same time, to provide students with elective courses on theoretical knowledge about their field of study, which can facilitate their grasp of the employment skills and meanwhile ensure their capacity to apply those skills innovatively.