Collaboration between universities and the IT industry is now stronger than ever, producing a new generation of graduates who are better prepared to enter the labor market. Businesses in general are becoming more demanding, stipulating that their personnel specialize in a variety of technological disciplines. As well as excelling in these areas, they also want the new graduates they take on to have experience in a variety of areas – something that is not always possible.
How can universities that are tasked with educating and preparing the new IT professionals ensure that they are fully equipped to meet the challenges of the ever changing trends of the modern market? How are they updating and modifying their educational courses and study plans? And what are they doing to ensure that their teachers and instructors are adequately qualified to impart the needed skills and knowledge? In these areas it is vital that universities collaborate fully with service providers and the industry in general.
Towards the beginning of this year, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and IBM signed an academic collaboration agreement to promote the development of the skills required for “the 21st century and beyond.” IBM provided over 320,000 students, from 13 schools and 31 institutes and research centers, with access to software solutions and training courses developed by the university, covering subjects such as Big Data and analytics, data administration, mobile development and infrastructure and applications, among others.
“IBM has worked with universities under the University Relations Program for over 60 years,” stated Graciela Gutierrez, IBM Mexico’s Governmental Relations Manager. The agreement with UNAM is a good example of the program’s objectives, she explained. “We meet with the universities and show them the menu of applications and software we provide that might interest them.”
Seeing as there is no point in having access to these apps and software if you don’t know how to use them, the company has programs in place designed to instruct the students and teachers as to their practical use. According to Graciela Gutierrez, the IBM specialists voluntarily offer their services on the first courses and help with the ongoing training of the teachers.
Christian Corcino is the founder and CEO of Intellisys D Corps, a business specializing in software development and design, with offices in New York and Santiago, Dominican Republic. He has approached several of the leading universities within the Dominican Republic, looking to improve collaboration with them and their students, and is all too aware that high-tech tools are useless unless you know how to operate them.
Not long ago, Corcino set up the Cincinnatus Institute of Craftmanship (CIC). “By creating this institute we have been able to formalize the training process. Students from the information sector, on the verge of graduating, enroll in the program,” explained Corcino.
Thanks to agreements with the Cibao Catholic Technological University (UCATECI), the Catholic Papal Mother and Teacher University (PUCMM) and the Santo Domingo Autonomous University (USAD), students are able to attend these Intellisys programs and actively participate in software development projects for clients based in the United States.
Currently, the CIC has 15 students, and it is planning to build on this by replicating their center on the campuses of at least two other universities; opening software development centers that work closely with the training of the these future professionals. According to Corcino, you have to go further than merely teaching different programming languages; you have to teach the logic behind the programming. “It doesn’t matter in which language you program, if you apply the logic when programming it is easier to learn a new language.”
For Arturo Campos, General Manager at Sisoft Mexico, practical training is becoming increasingly important. Recently Sisoft took on an agreement with the Acatlan Higher Education Faculty (FES), UNAM, to develop their talent. Students in the final stages of their Applied Mathematics and Computation (MAC) degrees participate in a work experience program as they study, with the aim of preparing them for the competitive business environment. “This work experience prepares the Mexican IT experts to face the global competition,” explained Campos.
These professional programs last for six months. They started running in October 2013, and, according to Campos, some have even been incorporated into ongoing training programs in order to expand upon the development projects that they already have with their clients.
When considering students, Sisoft looks for high levels of knowledge in the computation, software and electronics fields. According to the general manager, emphasis is placed on project delivery time, expert consultation services and improving communication and teamwork skills.
Although, as yet, they have not been able convince university authorities to change study plans, they have been able to start up postgraduate courses. In fact, at the start of this year, Sisoft and the FES Acatlan agreed to include applications development on the ROMOB platform as part of the Bachelor’s Degree in Technology Management for the Development of Online Software at MAC.
“At FEC Acatlan, we’re always looking to be at the technological forefront when innovating and training students to achieve success in the workplace,” stated Jeanett Lopez, head of the MAC Program. Sisoft has also opened an electronics laboratory with the Mexican Autonomous Technological Institute (ITAM), which will research the use of data transmission cards with proprietary technology, using wireless technology. Areas such as Engineering, Electronics, Mechatronics and Computation will all collaborate with this laboratory.
More Than Just Theory
One of the leading institutions for higher educational studies is the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM). This university has collaborated closely with businesses such as Oracle, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and the SAS Institute, among others.
“One of the ITESM system features is that we don’t just cover the theory; we look to go further,” stated Maricarmen Jimenez, one of the teachers from the Mexico State Campus’ Information Technology department. A good example of these courses is the Data Mining Business Applications Degree, in which they collaborate directly with the SAS Institute.
According to Jimenez, they are looking to teach effective methodology, as well as developing the skills and capabilities the students will need upon entering the professional field.
She also emphasized that ITESM is open to suggestions from graduating students, as well as from the industry itself, as to how to improve study plans. As they do not depend on approval from a third party, their study plans can be adapted according to market trends.
“We use leading technological tools because we want our students to be leaders and to end up working for the big businesses,” stated Dr. Viterbo Barberena, head of the Analytics Masters’ Degree Program at the Anahuac Mexico North University. “Many students will go on to set up their own businesses, so we also teach them to operate the tools they will need to help them grow their businesses.”
According to Gloria Cabero, Marketing North Latin America Director at the SAS Institute, they have worked with a large number of universities in order to train up human resources capable of covering the needs of the market. “One of the industry’s main requirements is closely linked to the demand for analytics, an area on which businesses rely heavily when making decisions, and they are calling for more people with knowledge of this field,” she said.
Without a doubt, collaboration between the academic world and the businesses themselves will continue to prosper as universities become more and more willing to make changes to their study plans, better preparing the students to meet the demands of the workplace.