Collaboration for a More Relevant Education

Collaboration for a More Relevant Education

The structure of universities as higher education institutions has not fundamentally changed for decades, when we consider how students choose a campus, join faculties and departments in pursuit of a classical field of study, e.g. in engineering, sciences or business. Nonetheless, in the last decades, we have witnessed two emerging trends within higher education that help to feed econ­omies with innovative business solutions: making knowledge available to a wider global audi­ence of learners that increases the global talent pool, and added increased focus on research for problem solving.

These trends will continue to influence how universities will be structured in 2040, how they will develop talent and hence, how they affect future economies through a direct collaboration between the private and public sectors.

In a global economy, academ­ic institutions, aiming to reach out and share knowledge, have adopted diverse strategies rang­ing from establishing an online presence to building brick-and-mortar subsidiaries. Such actions have been driven by:

  1. gaining brand recognition as a global provider of talent to employers, societies and economies, hence attract­ing an increasing number of students seeking higher education1; and/or
  2. becoming a global steward through establishing and developing programs of direct relevance to emerging economies with a dire need for local talent and innova­tion.

Like many leading industries, the energy sector has witnessed changes over the past decade across several emerging econo­mies, e.g. in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or South-East Asia. Global corporations like Schlum­berger2, NGOs, and leading energy universities, separately and collaboratively, have been erect­ing buildings, developing science and engineering programs, and, wherever feasible, establishing re­search labs to bolster support for the emerging energy economy in such regions3,4. These programs, in many cases, offered degrees ranging from vocational certifica­tions to graduate level degrees5.

However, investments in re­search and innovation have remained a hurdle in retaining local talented individuals who wish to establish and develop businesses in emerging economies. Often, these individuals are compelled to immigrate to more developed nations. Even in developed countries, youths seeking to enter the business world are typically burdened by lack of investors willing to share risk, and are often hindered by heavy regulations on business startups.

Recent years have also wit­nessed the emergence of national, regional and global initiatives that aim at enabling business innova­tion through securing funding to support entrepreneurship, espe­cially in STEM (Science, Technolo­gy, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Yet more will be required to boost future economies, with funds coming from academic and government institutions, corpora­tions and other organisations6,7.

In the coming decades, we expect to see a significant in­crease in investments in university programs that address national or global challenges, including public health and safety, energy and environment, and the like89. Organizations like the Nation­al Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer10 in the United States, or Global Ventures (GCV)11that facilitate networking among industry, government and academia, will see a significant rise in their activities.

Amid these challenges of balanc­ing globalization with localization, developing versus emerging econ­omies, it is important to note how the education sector has evolved to continue to meet the increasing needs of growing populations, diminishing resources and ev­er-changing economic drivers, with a background of the digital technology advancing at amazing speeds.

The revolution we have seen in education delivery has no doubt provided an opportunity to knowl­edge thirsty individuals around the globe. Millions of hard-working young people, who otherwise would not afford a residential higher education to advance their careers, have finally had access to a vast knowledge base from lead­ing universities of the world12.

It is true that the dropout rate from online courses, or certifica­tion program, has been signifi­cantly higher than from residential programs; however, the “free” (or minimal cost) delivery has ena­bled many young professionals and youths aspiring to ameliorate their socioeconomic conditions. Multiple studies over the past dec­ade have linked education to the human development index (HDI)13.

Many companies, including glob­al corporations, like Schlumberger, have adapted their continuing education or life learning strate­gies to include digital education, with the expectation that adopt­ing such strategies will provide training and career development opportunities for their employees with minimal business disruption or family life disruption A more impactful trend, and that is likely to be more influential, is the evolution­ary shift towards a prob­lem solving pedagogical approach.

This shift has been manifesting itself in the rise of new academic structures based on collaborative learning:

Inter-disciplinary “Institutes” that are typically organi­zational structures within a university – a “Director” usually leads the institute with support by an Advi­sory Board comprised of members from the industry and academia. The institute draws upon resources from various departments and supports the activities from various sources, including industrial partners, govern­ment agencies and univer­sity funds. These institutes bear the responsibility to address a problem facing society, typically related to themes of direct impact on human and economic devel­opment, such as health, energy, and the environ­ment. These institutes can grant degrees in addition to conducting inter-disciplinary research. The Energy sector for example, continues to establish “Energy Institutes” to ensure effective collab­oration among engineers, scientists, sociologists and environmentalists all seek­ing to provide cleaner and more secure future energy resources14,15 .

  1. Integrative learning “Work­spaces” – these workshops, by design, take a broad challenge representing a set of problems whose resolution could significantly affect the society, nationally or globally, and address problems from all angles. An example of such challenge could be the integration of advanced robotics (and robots) into the society16.

The global, regional or national, challenges awaiting us in 2040 will require a more collaborative and collective approach to reshape higher education. In turn, the insti­tutions (AKA universities) would be a more effective source of special­ized talent that will lead the growth of economies across nations of the world.

  1. Industry, academia as well as governmental agencies will need to adapt to new collaborative strategies and to adopt innovative ways of working in a more inte­grative manner. This will enable universities to deliver education that is more relevant, more cost effective, and more efficient, en­suring alignment of future gradu­ates and research outcome to the needs of society and specifically the industry.


1 IIE Open Doors. Retrieved from https://www.iie. org/opendoors

2 Schlumberger Global Stewardship Report. Retrieved from how_work/globalstewardship.aspx

3 Makerere University Computational Lab. Re­trieved from news/makerere.aspx

4 Agostino-Neto Engineering Program. Retrieved from women_angola.aspx

5 Getenergy Event MENA Milan 2017. Retrieved from

6Imperial Innovations. Retrieved from https://www.

7Innovate Calgary. Retrieved from https://www.

8 U.S Department of Energy (DOE). Retrieved from

9 National Environment Research Center. Retrieved from

10 National Center for Entrepreneurship and Tech­nology Transfer. Retrieved from

11 Global Corporate Venturing. Retrieved from

12 MIT Office of Digital Learning. Retrieved from

13 UN Human Development Index. Retrieved from­ment-index-hdi

14 Rice Energy and Environment Initiative. Retrieved from

15 Oxford Institute for Energy. Retrieved from

16 UT Engineering Education and Research Center. Retrieved from facilities/eerc


Before his retirement in late 2017, Dr. Najib Abusalbi was Director of Corporate University Relations for Schlumberger Limited, the world’s largest services and technology provider for the oil & gas sector. His responsibilities included oversight of activities with leading global universities, developing and recruiting talent globally, and providing support of both education and research programs for the energy sector. Najib joined Schlumberger in 1984 and since then has held multiple product development and management positions in the company. He holds a PhD. in Atomic Physics from Louisiana State University and has led several of Schlumberger’s Communities of Practice, including Management Disciplines, Project Management, and Knowledge and Information Management. Dr. Abusalbi has served in various committees of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) and the Society of Exploration Geophysics (SEG), on the Industry Advisory Board of the Norway-Texas Petroleum Research Alliance (NorTex), the Forum on Education of the global Francophone corporations, and in an advisory role on the National Center of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer (NCET2).

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