Due to the changing landscape of world of work, and their increasing need for soft skills among graduates, universities are required to find a way to incorporate different learning styles into their teaching methods. In order to stand out, the University of Economics in Bratislava (UEBA) introduced a creative way to encourage students to apply for their institution, build stronger relationships with industries, and prepare their graduates for the workforce. In addition to the traditional higher education experience that many universities focus on, UEBA added an experiential learning program to their existing course selection.
How does the experiential learning program differ from a traditional learning path?
By the time the students graduate, they are expected to have certain set of skills to be successful in the world of practice. Academics are skilled at teaching students the theory on a topic, but they might not have relevant experience in the actual application. Consequently, many recent graduates might experience certain difficulties when they enter the workforce.
To address this, elective classes are offered by the university to teach competencies the companies expect their employees to be familiar with. As UEBA has a major focus on economics, business, and management, the companies they collaborate are chosen intentionally to meet the students’ interests as well as their future career aspirations. This type of collaborative process is complex: there are multiple perspectives to take into account when a university collaborates with external organizations. In order for this process to be successful, the classes need to be constructed in a way that is beneficial for students, the university, and the partnering industries.
In collaboration with the university, experts working in the field create a syllabus for the semester, work together with students on hands-on projects, and teach them soft skills that are usually neglected in conventional learning. Even the way in which the professionals interact with the students is different from conventional teaching methods. Instead of using a lecture format, these professionals facilitate an engaging conversation among the students. The expert’s goal is to push students out of their comfort zone and help them to grow both academically and professionally. Since the students are major stakeholders of this interaction, their opinions are extremely valuable, and the university uses their feedback to improve and develop the courses overtime.
Mutually Beneficial Opportunity
The collaboration between UEBA and multinational corporations, such as Dell, IBM, and Hewlett Packard, is mutually beneficial. Many students who have the chance to take these elective courses might be offered jobs with the partnered organizations after graduation. Even if they decide not to work for these companies, the skills they develop through these courses gives them an advantage when applying to jobs in the future. The industries are satisfied because they know they will have employees who are able to apply what they learned in school in practice, and the students are happy because the elective courses allow them to work closely with prestigious firms and experienced professionals. The university benefits, because this program sets them apart from other institutions and attracts intelligent, hard-workers, and it allows them to build a stronger relationship overtime with outside institutions.
Other experiential learning opportunities offered
Practical learning is an important component of UEBA’s educational model. They not only offer elective courses during the semester, but also design international summer programs that focus on practical experiences, some of which include working as consultants or on case studies in other countries. Students who work on these projects gain deeper understanding of how to find solutions to real-life problems. As far as professional development services offered at the university itself, UEBA focuses on helping students to succeed through different career-development workshops, e.g. how to do job interviews and how to create a CV.
UEBA understands that education is multifaceted. To prepare their students adequately for success after graduation, UEBA employs a variety of teaching and learning methods for student skills development.
Barriers to overcome
UEBA and their students stand out because they incorporate a different style of teaching and learning experience into their education process. However, there are barriers that make this collaboration a challenging one to carry out. The Ministry of Education is focused mostly on providing education to students and has little incentive to provide experiential learning experiences. Therefore, the elective courses are funded largely by the university’s own budget, and external grants from the US Embassy in Bratislava. Fortunately, UEBA and its employees recognize the importance of hands-on learning experiences and make it a priority to offer them to their students. In the future, they hope to incorporate more of these learning experiences into their curriculum. Although there is still progress to be made, this program has the potential to revolutionize learning in higher education for future generations of students – making the skills they develop in school transferrable to their future careers.
Would you like to learn more about the UEBA approach to experiential learning? Please find the original case study report here. This blog is based on a case study originally written by Samo Pavlin (University of Ljubljana).
©all rights on images used in this article belong to the University of Economics in Bratislava.