Politics podcast: Ken Coates on the future of higher education

Politics podcast: Ken Coates on the future of higher education.

With university graduates finding it harder to find jobs, questions have been raised about the merits of a typical tertiary qualification. Dr Ken Coates, Canada research chair in regional innovation at University Saskatchewan Campus, says by 2050 we’re going to have hundreds of more specialised, boutique institutions.

“We’ll have a smaller number of what we call these ‘multiversities’ - the large scale enterprises that have the 30, 40, 50,000 students offering everything to everybody. I think we’re going to see a much larger shift towards private education,” Coates says.

As it stands, graduates are left with what Coates calls “a huge dose of career paranoia”.

“We have significant challenges in different countries with the unemployment of university graduates. It’s very high in places like Spain and Greece and other countries. We have a larger problem with graduate underemployment. … They get a job, but the job doesn’t require a university degree.

"I think one of the issues is that we have too few good jobs. So it’s actually a function of the fact that we’re losing jobs on the left hand, we’re over-producing people for jobs that no longer exist on the other hand, and you’re creating a growing level of dissatisfaction - sometimes anger.”

One of Coates’ interests has been how the rise of automation and artificial intelligence will affect tertiary education and the career prospects of future generations of students.

“This whole issue of automation, artificial intelligence, digital technology, robotification has a lot of people worried, but not enough. So the estimates are - depending on which economy you’re in - 30 to 50% of the jobs we currently have will disappear somewhere by 2025/2030. That’s not that long down the line.

"That is actually where the global conversation about a guaranteed annual income has really picked up speed. It used to be a kind of marginal, left-wing kind of idea that sort of found a certain amount of currency in places like Scandanavia. Now people are talking about it all over the place.”

Music credit: “Medium Leaker”, by Tab and Anitek on the free music archive