Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
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How well are higher education institutions preparing students for work?

Original Publication Date: April 14, 2016; Edited and Republished November 21, 2022

The higher education sector has come under great scrutiny in recent months, particularly because of financial concerns. The financial aspect of higher education institutions needs to be addressed, but there is more that needs to be done. But no conversation has yet been held about the quality of education students are receiving in higher education today.

In my twenty years of academic experience as a faculty member, I have witnessed firsthand the changes taking place in higher education. Due to growing financial costs, universities and colleges have lost their academic rigor in order to retain students. In the last few years, faculty expectations have changed as class sizes and workloads have increased and academic accountability has decreased. The level of grade inflation is at an all-time high, and the level of student academic accountability is plummeting.

Because of this, many higher education institutions fail to provide students with the necessary skills and abilities to be effective in the workplace. In fact, higher education prepares students to take part in workplace bullying rather than become critical thinkers and good communicators.

In higher education, knowledge gains are prioritized over skill development. In other words, knowledge does not create skills, nor do skills create knowledge. The expectation in today’s workplace is that workers have certain skills when they are hired. Workplaces seek interpersonal skills such as communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, and diversity understanding. However, most academic programs do not teach these topics and this is because institutions do not adapt to the needs of the changing workplace. There is a slow pace of change in higher education because it is a classic bureaucracy. It can take years to update a curriculum in higher education, by which time it has become outdated. Thus, students are ill-prepared for today's complex workplaces. 

Universities are more concerned with keeping students in class so they can make money than if students learn and can perform at a very basic level.  By adhering to students who demand or threaten faculty who do not give them an A due to their poor academic performance, higher education reinforces poor workplace behavior. Faculty are encouraged and made to change the grade of a student, pass them, or accommodate the student, regardless of whether the student deserves it. This may increase retention, but it does not mean students have the academic or the professional skills needed to be in the workplace.  Provosts and deans often pressure faculty to change grades or change grades themselves without consulting faculty. The students are reinforced to behave poorly because they realize that causing a fuss gets them what they want. Unfortunately, the situation is repeated at work and can result in workplace bullying.

Faculty members in higher education should serve as role models for students. However, academics are frequently involved in workplace bullying themselves.  The academic bully is frequently rewarded at universities and colleges, and they are often placed in positions of power. As such, bad professional behavior is reinforced for students and students develop an understanding that treating others poorly in the workplace gets good results.

A comprehensive reform of higher education is required, not just a financial one.  A student's academic foundation is important, but so is their interpersonal development as well.  This will enable us to make the necessary improvements that will allow everyone to become a better and more effective professional, worker, and leader. My hope is that if we improve the quality of workers entering the workplace, bully culture will be eliminated and stopped.

Call to Action
Consider the following:
What interpersonal skills are required in the workplace? Are these skills provided through training or do workers come to you with them? Is there anything you can do to prevent workplace bullying among your workers?