Interview: Alejandro Moreno Salamanca
In what ways have the main weaknesses of Colombia’s education sector been improved?
ALEJANDRO MORENO SALAMANCA: The education system is largely focused on theoretical knowledge rather than hands-on teaching. Although efforts have been made to improve this by introducing company internships for professions such as management, it still lags behind other subjects such as law and medicine in terms of offering practical experience. A decade ago, MBAs that did not have a strong theoretical component did not qualify as a master’s degree and were instead listed as specialised courses. While effort have been made since to include practical courses in the curricula, we are far behind countries such as Germany and Singapore, where higher education establishments have acknowledged the importance of technical and vocational education, and its positive effects on the employability of newly qualified professionals. Nevertheless, undergraduate students in Colombia may only participate in one or two internships throughout their studies, while the rest of their teaching is focused on theoretical knowledge. This is one of the biggest weaknesses that can be seen in our higher education system.
The shift in paradigm will require inputs from the business community to facilitate access to internships; academia, in order to move the focus of teaching away from theory; and regulators, in order to ensure these changes are rolled out across all institutions.
How would you describe the quality of Colombia’s top-level management segment?
MORENO: Despite the challenges the country has faced in recent years, Colombia’s top-level executives have been resilient, ambitious and strong in the face of adversity. However, as we look towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a number of new skills will become more important, and the gap between those who possess them and those who do not will widen. Leaders will need to be conscious of this fact and ensure that their personal ambitions do not conflict with those of others. By keeping an eye on inequality and inequity, leaders will need to ensure that social unrest does not threaten society’s stability.
As economic tensions increase, so do individuals’ sensitivity. Therefore, empathy is an important quality to be encouraged among leaders in order to attract and maintain talent. Furthermore, despite recent claims of a rise in protectionism, globalisation is an inevitable phenomenon. As we seek to compete in an increasingly interconnected world it is essential that businesses are effectively integrated into global value chains and that managers are geared towards internationalisation. Moreover, understanding and adapting to innovation, and greater market sensitivity towards new trends, will be crucial in preparing for 4IR in the coming years.
What are the current trends in higher education?
MORENO: Time has become the biggest constraint in perfecting new skills, especially among top-level managers. As a result, blended learning initiatives – which combine online materials with traditional classroom learning and enable greater student flexibility – are increasingly in demand, particularly in the business world. As technology advances, e-learning has transformed from being solely a method of theoretical learning to offering practical knowledge. In a number of business schools software such as the video conferencing service Zoom enables people to attend interactive courses without requiring their physical presence. While technology has not replaced human interaction, it has become a complementary tool to accommodate the needs of a fast-paced, time-constrained world.
Higher education establishments are also increasingly moving towards more targeted courses as leaders seek to learn from specialists and peers within their specific fields. In this context, the concept of “coompeting” – a juxtaposition of cooperating and competing – will continue to gain prominence in the years to come.
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