What follows are some edited excerpts from the interviews we conducted with university instructors on how the educational system can keep up in an age of ubiquitous disruption and unpredictable job evolution and what should be done to bridge the gap between academia and the professional world.
We are in a constant battle against complacency and stagnation. My goal is to prepare students to enter professional life and boost their employability. I try not to limit our class sessions to just teaching the course materials. I also encourage participation in creative and strategic competitions, whether on local or multinational levels. I challenge them to face real market needs, to compete with others and put their learnings into action.
As a university instructor, I have come to understand that my students have to learn more and more quickly to stay ahead and meet the needs of the industry at every level. There are new skills, new takes on emerging technologies and new ways to do old things, from marketing to design. In the words of Aristotle, “teaching is the highest form of understanding.” I have come to see it is my role and a must to teach students and encourage them to become lateral strategic thinkers. In that way I am pleased to fulfill my role as a vocational mentor. --Joelle Mhanna Chebli, Communication Arts and Design instructor at USEK, AUST and USJ.
'As you may know, our major concern at IGE has always been and still is to make sure that our Marketing & Advertising program fits the market needs. We try to annually meet with market experts from the industry and well-known local companies in order to keep in touch with the key market evolutions.
We already signed partnerships with some of them. These partnerships grant our students trainings and future recruitment opportunities.
We regularly update our program enabling us to constantly improve our students' skill set. For instance, we have embraced digital since a long time and have already covered all the issues in this field with appropriate courses and practical trainings.'--Joyce Sirgi, Head of Marketing department, IGE-USJ
'Although we do not offer courses specifically in advertising, but rather a well rounded design education towards a 4-year first professional degree preparing our students for the profession, with what it requires in terms of design and technology skills, creative problem solving and critical thinking, and that allows them to be adaptive to the changing technology, new roles of design and designers, and local, regional and global trends, changes and opportunities.
Equipped with competencies that allow them to enter the work force, our students also intern at top design and advertising agencies in their 3rd year, further enhancing their qualifications and preparing them for the real world.
Our graduates join a host of top design firms and ad agencies in Lebanon and abroad (Tala Safie as art director at the New York Times, Nicole Ghosn as senior jewelry designer at Marc Jacobs, Arij Mahmoud as the previous Executive Creative Director at Leo Burnett etc.) and several have started their own agencies such as Red &Co founded by Mira Kaddoura in Portland, Oregon; Tarek Attrissi design in Amsterdam and Barcelona; Studio Safar (Hatem Imam and Maya Moumneh); Kite Creative (Maya Saikaly); The Bright-side... among many other reputable agencies in Lebanon and abroad. They also move beyond design into other creative areas such as Music (Mashrou3 Leila band), Jewelry Design (Margueritta by Ghitta Abihanna) Design Education (Bahia Shehab founder of the Design program at the America University of Cairo) to name a few, all of whom illustrate the diversity and flexibility the program offers to prepare them for alternative and changing roles in the professional world.'--Lina Ghaibeh, Associate professor & Coordinator, Graphic Design Program at AUB
'Entrants to the industry should be more multi-faceted. We are trying to blend all this through the introduction of new courses such as Digital Advertising, Entrepreneurship in Media, Consumer Activation Programs among others.
We are also changing the way courses like "Creativity and Copywriting," "Media-planning " are given to reflect the changes occurring in the market
Moreover, we have specific seminar series to cover all the topics that may be emerging in the field.
Practical courses at NDU are given by professionals from the industry to bring their insights and perspectives to the classroom.
Another aspect of collaboration with the industry professionals is our cooperation in the frame of the accreditation we hold from the International Advertising Association (IAA) with the IAA-Lebanon Chapter. In this context, jurors from the field representing the
IAA - Lebanon evaluate at the end of each term the senior projects of our students and give them feedback on their ideas and campaigns.
Here, I would like to stress on the importance of institutional and programmatic accreditations for quality assurance purposes of academic programs. The New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) accreditation on the institutional level at NDU and the IAA programmatic accreditation of the BA in Advertising and Marketing require constant efforts from us administrators and faculty members to reflect and update our programs.'-- Dr. Maria Bou Zeid, Assistant Professor, Chairperson- Department of Media Studies at Notre Dame University- NDU (Louaize)
'It has been decades we hear that the students’ learning is not sufficient for the market needs. And it seems that today nothing has changed. So not only universities need to work closely with industries, understand and cater for their needs, but also universities need to revise and revamp their teaching strategies and curriculums and make them adaptable to a more open, holistic, surely vocational and human centred, based on strategic thinking, sustainability, collaboration and humbleness.'--Halim Choueiry, design thinker, educator and process strategist
'We, at the American University in Dubai (AUD), have it within our mission to generate ‘life ready’ graduates. This means we are determined to relate to the industry when facilitating and delivering knowledge.
We usually work closely with the industry when planning our curricula, our courses, our lessons and our assessment methods.
Award-winning agencies and advertising professionals are actively involved and engaged with our students, launching live briefs, giving guest lectures, holding portfolio critiques, giving relevant workshops, sharing local/regional case studies and recruiting interns as well as fresh graduates.
Our programs are regularly assessed, reviewed and updated with the support of our advisory board that comprises renowned professionals in the industry and employers of our graduates. The advertising program in specific is accredited by the IAA global and by SACSCOC, both professional and academic accreditations are only earned after detailed assessment of our degree requirements. Our student work is regularly acknowledged and awarded by the industry at prestigious international student competitions.
This is how we work to bridge the gap between academia and the professional world.
However, as an academic who comes from the industry, it pains me to make this statement: the gap that the industry enjoys criticizing is at many times a standing proof that the industry is still not up to level of our graduates and NOT the opposite…'--Dina Faour, Professor of Advertising (Creative) and Outreach – Visual Coordinator at American University in Dubai (AUD)
'I am an agriculture engineer and an environmental economist. One of the most creative people in the industry in Lebanon was a lawyer. The point? It does not matter what you studied, what matters is how curious you are, what you are doing with the knowledge you acquired, are you still reading and being able to be abreast with the industry. This blending "strategic, creative and reductive communication skills with an understanding of technology and technical channels" has always been there, here's an anecdote: Remember Peggy in Mad Men? She was a secretary, then she came up with the line "Mark your man" for the Belle Jolie lipstick and this is when Don Draper decided she will be an excellent copywriter. So at the end of the day, university can take you this far.'--Tarek Chemaly, Lecturer, blogger and author
The full version of this article appeared in the print edition of ArabAd in X issue 2016, on page 16.