On November 2nd, the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Lebanese American University (LAU), and the American University of Cairo (AUC), in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology (GT), held the second public workshop for the Tomorrow's Leaders College-to-Work Pipeline Project. This project was initially launched in October 2020 and is funded by the U.S. Department of State's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The intent of TLP project is to bridge the gap between academia and job market requirements by providing the students with the necessary skills to work in corporations or even develop their own startups. The two-hour and a half workshop focused on educational reforms and put forth a path for university students to develop their leadership skills to persevere in their careers.
AUB's Associate Provost, Jocelyn DeJong, explained in the workshop's opening statement the relevance of the program. She disclosed, “Youth unemployment is almost three times as high as adult unemployment in the region, despite the high rates of education." With the changing region's needs, the transition from current educational systems and skills needed for work is proving to be difficult. Dr. Alan Shihadeh, Dean of AUB's Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, proceeded to shed light on the challenges facing higher education. He identified that the ongoing increase in tuition fees over the years has not yielded greater educational value. Consequently, zero-tuition and time-based business models have started to disrupt the traditional educational industry, threatening the utility of universities and colleges.
The first keynote speaker from UNESCO, Dr. Seiko Sugita, highlighted the growing mismatch between job design and competency as a cause of youth unemployment. She stated, “Educational programs are based neither on skills anticipation nor on evidence of the success of past interventions." The current learning methods lag behind the rapidly changing corporate environment, begging the need for an inclusive social transformation.
Another point was made by Dr. Greg Heileman, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at the University of Arizona, who vocalized the misconception between quality education and complexity in curricula. He revealed that there is an inverse relationship between the quality of the program and its complexity, whereby higher-ranking institutes share less complex curricula, despite the common belief.
To expand upon the quality of education, Dr. Saouma Boujaoude, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Graduate Studies at AUB, declared that the traditional learning methods alienate students from the world and recommended formative learning. He claimed that “Formative learning and teaching are essential to push students to be challenged, to think, and to use their knowledge to solve problems, and if they don't do that, then they're not prepared well enough to be able to function well in the world."
U.S. Department of State's MEPI program has a defined vision that aims to invest in the capacity of the individuals and organizations within the MENA region. At present, the MEPI-TLP program at AUB has made tremendous progress towards achieving its objectives. Some of which include interdisciplinary TL courses, conducting hands-on applied research within the industry, as well as fostering an environment for entrepreneurship.
AUB's collaboration with Georgia Tech, LAU, and AUC as well as the MEPI office has enabled the successful launch of the Vertically Integrated Program (VIP) and Entrepreneurship Program (Create-X) across the university. These programs cater to graduate and undergraduate students through ten Create-X projects, three VIP projects, and two hybrid projects (where Create-X and VIP integrate), with each project showing positive signs of progression. In addition, the program offers five TLP courses to AUB students of all majors.
The MEPI TLP project is part of a long-term program that is expected to continue for four additional phases. MEPI's first phase (TLP pilot) continues to this date and has celebrated boot camps held at Beirut Digital District (BDD) in May and August 2021, alongside workshops with the industry partners. More recently, the MEPI team has successfully integrated AUC into the project since last August. The pilot phase is expected to end in May 2022.
The internships conducted and the experimental forms of teaching have offered students an opportunity for real-life corporate life. “We aspire to work towards an educational system that responds to the ever-changing job market demands and learning techniques to ensure the success of our students after graduation," said Riad Chedid, Director of the TLP Project.
As such, the TLP College-to-Work Pipeline project aligns well with the difficult circumstances the MENA region is enduring, and particularly the ever-rising youth unemployment rates. The knowledge and experiences that are developed through this pilot will revolutionize how students approach their future careers.