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June 23, 2017 10:29 AM

Ken Coates delivers keynote address on education in the 21st century

On June 12, Ken Coates - the Canadian Research chair in Regional Innovation, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan - delivered a keynote address at the Cambridge campus titled Post-Secondary Education in the 21st Century - Preparing for the Future. The event was part of a professional development conference for college employees and tied in with a series of celebrations this year to mark Conestoga’s 50th anniversary.

“Conestoga has a terrific reputation. You know you work in one of the top-rated post-secondary institutions in the country, and when you say that, by definition, you’re saying you’re one of the top ones in the world,” said Coates to Conestoga employees. “Remember that when you do your work, and you do it with enthusiasm and passion and commitment, that you are actually establishing a standard, not just for this institution, not just for Canada, but for the world. The world pays attention to what you do and what you’ve achieved, so when you think of 50 years, it’s not just 50 years of existence, but this is 50 years of real achievement.”

During his address, Coates discussed the impact technology will have in the future, the growing importance for work-integrated learning, contemplated the threat of the “job-less” economy, and proposed strategies for future-proofing post-secondary institutions.

He commented on the false hierarchy that often places universities ahead of polytechnics and colleges in terms of what people perceive as being “better” institutions, but explained there needs to be a shift in perception so that learners are directed to the institution and program that fit them best: “One isn’t better than the other. Universities are only part of the post-secondary system; we have remarkable community colleges in this country that have done some amazing work … we’ve also seen the rise of polytechs in the last 10 to 15 years.”

Coates noted there has also been a steady rise in the number of university graduates attending polytechnics to get the experience and training they need to go into the contemporary workforce. Part of the trend stems from employers who can’t differentiate between university graduates; Coates explained that employers are shifting from the pursuit of credentials to the pursuit of talent.

He suggested institutions use technology to tailor the delivery of curriculum to each learner’s needs and predicts virtual reality, gamification and machine-based learning will trend in the future. He believes the increase in unemployed middle-aged workers will also demand new delivery models for retraining: “They have mortgages and families. They can’t commit to a two-year program even if there’s a grant available.”

Coates has published and spoken extensively on post-secondary education and co-authored three books on the subject: Campus Confidential, What to Consider When You Are Considering University and Dream Factories: Why Universities Will Not Solve the Youth Job Crisis. He also works on Japan studies, northern development, Indigenous rights and the impact of science and technology on society.

View his Conestoga presentation online

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