Professor Elias Links of the University of Stellenbosch speaks professional education and career success

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By CharterQuest, 04 November 2019

The Future CFO Magazine Managing Editor Valentine Nti, sat down with one of our unsung heroes.

Thank you for speaking to us Professor. There is a wise saying that goes, ‘What an old man can see seated, a young person can’t see standing.’ 

You are an accomplished Academic, Professor Extraordinaire, Director of listed companies, and a retired Senior Diplomat. How has your training in Economics helped you accomplish such a mighty stature? 

Thank you for the opportunity. I must just caution that I am not a ‘King Solomon’ and so do not have all the wisdom you may think given my experience. I am just an ordinary functionary that has come through the ranks, in different roles as you have stated.

From my humble beginning, I wanted to be an accountant but there were not a lot of opportunities in this space as you have it today with the good work SAICA and other Professional Bodies such as SAIPA, AAT, ACCA and CIMA are doing, so I took up Economics to PHD level and landed up as a Professor at the University; then I became a diplomat at multi-lateral institutions like The IMF, The World Bank and The European Union. Sometimes there are doors that close and you invariably feel disappointed, just to find that the disappointment was necessary in order for you to take advantage of an opportunity presented to you by none other than the President, Nelson Mandela. 

I guess in your time, there were far more opportunities than the average young person today faces?

That is true. Today, the supply of Bachelor graduates is so great in certain disciplines that young people have to stand in long queues to secure a job which most of the time end up in disappointment. So the choice of area of study becomes crucial. In today’s economy, the Technical and Professional fields are much more in demand and seem to be a better proposition than the straight forward Academic choices. There is nothing wrong with Academic Degrees but I think the supply in certain of these disciplines far outweigh, the labour market requirements

You seem to be drawing a contrast between a Professional Qualification and an Academic one. Do you want to shed more light on that for our readers? 

The Academic route is very important as that is the source of knowledge. It has a research orientation and helps us understand our world as we develop and confer knowledge all the time. The Professional route on the other hand is experiential in orientation, with exposure to practical implementation of that knowledge which must be updated at all times as practices are always improving through evolution. I think as a country or a continent, we have drifted perhaps too much to the academic side and it discomforts one to see the long queues every year at the gates of our Universities. These results, in my view, form a lack of proper consideration of our Career Paths as young people, in the light of society’s needs.

Why this drift to Academic rather than Professional Education? How did we get it so wrong?

The old question of how we supply tertiary Education is one reason for the drift. At present we have about 22 tertiary Universities in the country; each one providing Education right up to PHD level. If I were a policy-maker, I would ease the pressure on them by opening up more Universities of Technology and Four-year Liberal arts colleges that would offer the first and second degrees. 

This should take away a large number of the students at the established Universities. I would also actively promote and support Professional Education more than it is done today. 

There is also the historic aspect; as parents we aspire to have University Education for our kids; we dare not deprive our children that which we did not have as youth.

As the present generation become parents and recognise that Technical and Professional Education is a very viable alternative and in some cases a far better proposition to building a financially secure career, more will follow the Professional Career Path.

Most of our research findings keep pointing to lack of Problem-Solving skills in Graduates? What should we as Educators at the tertiary level be doing better?

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