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Study-Work Conflict in Science and Engineering Higher Education

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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1674

The Technion case study shows how a university can proactively address a social phenomenon–the study-work conflict–by exploiting its core business, that is, research, emphasizing the relevance of research skills to the future job market.

Folks:

The posting below looks at the conflict many higher education students experience between taking college courses while also working part or full-time, although often not so much for financial need than for career development. One way to address this problem is through on-campus undergraduate research experience. The study is based on an effort at the Israel Institute of Technology but clearly has implications for millions of students world-wide.  It is by Orit Hazzan and Liat Levontin of the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology [1] Haifa, Israel. Copyright © 2018 Orit Hazzan and Liat Levontin.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. For further information contact: Orit Hazzan <oritha@ed.technion.ac.il>
 
 
Regards,
 
Rick Reis
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A Multifaceted Analysis of the Study-Work Conflict in Science and Engineering Higher Education: The Case of the Technion
 
Introduction    
 
Students worldwide often work while pursuing their studies (Jacob, Gerth, and Weiss, 2018). At the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology (hereafter referred to as the Technion), a study-work conflict is highly widespread; many students work while studying not due to financial needs but rather due to career considerations and opportunities. This paper focuses on this phenomenon. 
 
We first characterize the study-work conflict and describe three forces that contribute to the conflict and shape it: the students, the university, and the tech-industry. We further suggest that the study-work conflict is the result of an intersection of three contemporary social phenomena, the Y-generation, the uncertain environment of higher education, and the 4thindustrial revolution (see Table 1). We describe how the three forces coincide at the Technion and briefly describe the Technion’s planned response to the expression of the work-study conflict, namely the #Ladders program.
 
Table 1. Forces influencing the study-work conflict and the associated social contemporary phenomena  
 
Level of Analysis
Force
Contemporary Social Phenomenon
Individual
Students 
Y-generation 
Organizational
University 
Uncertain higher education environment 
National
Tech industry
The 4th industrial revolution 
 
1.     The Study-Work Conflict 
Gaining high education traditionally precedes pursuing a career. The goal of being an excellent student is, in many cases, a subgoal of becoming a more productive employee.  Nowadays, however, especially for engineering students, who are at the focus of our paper, work and studying happen somewhat simultaneously and potentially lead to a study-work conflict.  
 
The study-work conflict is a form of inter-role conflict in which the general demands of work, the time devoted to it, and the strain it creates interfere with academic duties. According to the literature, students who work while pursuing an academic degree might face a study-work conflict (Curtis and Shani, 2002; Hall, 2010; Jacob, Gerth, and Weiss, 2018; Lingard, 2007). 
 
While most previous study-work conflict research analyzed the phenomenon on the individual level (e.g., Owen, Kavanagh, and Dollard, 2017), we go beyond the individual level and describe three forces that contribute to the creation and shape of the study-work conflict–the students (individual level), the university (organizational level) and the tech industry (national level; See Figure 1). We then describe how the three forces shape the study-work conflict, using the Technion as a case study. 
 
Figure 1: Three forces that shape the study-work conflict
 
 
 
 
Force 1. Students: The Y-Generation 
Students come to university with two main goals. They want to acquire the best academic education possible and they want to become well prepared for work. These two goals are in conflict over the students’ resources (time, attention, etc.). 
 
Most of today’s students belong to the Y-generation, a generation characterized by a strong desire to achieve (Monaco and Martin, 2007), and high career-oriented expectations from high education (Coomes and DeBard, 2004; Howe and Strauss, 2003). For Y-generation students, “doing is more important that knowing. Knowledge is no longer perceived to be the ultimate goal.” [2] Furthermore, they have zero tolerance for slow processes, and they expect and demand quick results. [3]  
 
These characteristics directly influence the way Y-generation students experience the study-work conflict. Compared with past generations, they put more pressure on themselves and others to excel due to increasing societal pressure to earn an academic degree, professional experience, and a high income (Curran & Hill, 2017). This assertion is especially relevant in advanced technical occupations.  
 
Technion students, like all Israeli students, are relatively older when they begin their studies (around 22-26 years old, after their compulsory army service). Thus, they are more at risk to suffer from the study-work conflict. Indeed, many Technion students kick off their careers while still studying, working part time in high-tech companies in jobs that are related to their field of study and earning relatively high salaries compared with their peers who work in other traditional student jobs. In the following reported study, we tested the prevalence of this phenomenon. 
 
Force 2. University: The Uncertain Environment of Higher Education
Universities desire to attract the best students (Frey and Osborne, 2017) and to give them both the best academic education possible and the best preparation for their future work life. These two goals may, however, be in conflict. 
 
Since it is assumed that most of the current occupations will disappear in the near future and new, yet unknown, occupations will appear (Frey and Osborne, 2017), universities must cope with some contemporary challenges. One main challenge is to educate undergraduate students for the unknown and hard-to-foresee future job market, and to equip them with 21stcentury skills (Binkley, Erstad, Herman, Raizen and Ripley with Rumble, 2010). 
 
At the same time, the advantages of undergraduate degrees are being questioned (e.g., American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017; Berman, 2012; Jason, Lane and Johnstone, 2012). For example, the Un-College social movement aims to change the notion that gaining an academic degree is essential for success. Documentary 2014 film, The Ivory Tower, questions the value of higher education, pointing out that the fee of college has increased more than any other service in the US. New models of higher education have also emerged, such as Minerva[4], Station1[5], Singularity University[6], and various boot camps. 
 
The Technion is a leading worldwide institute, with sites in Israel, USA (New York City) and China, and is ranked among the top 100 universities worldwide[7]. It has 18 academic units, 10,000 undergraduate students, 4,000 graduate students, and about 550 faculty members. It is one of the main suppliers of employees to the Israeli tech-industry, and its graduates constitute over 70 percent of the country's hi-tech company founders and managers (Frenkel and Maital with DeBare, 2012).  The Technion’s vision is to be “A science and technology research university, among the world’s top ten, dedicated to the creation of knowledge and the development of human capital and leadership, for the advancement of the State of Israel and all humanity.”[8]
 
The Technion’s achievements seem to reflect the study-work conflict. First, the Technion provides its students with an excellent academic education (it is the best university in Israel and the only Israeli university among the top 100 institutions in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, known as the Shanghai ranking[9]). It also offers its students the best preparation for the job market, and is considered the best university worldwide in preparing students for the digital revolution and teaching them digital skills (Times Higher Educationsurvey of The Global University Employability Ranking 2017[10]).
 
Force 3. Tech Industry: The 4th Industrial Tech Revolution
In the past few years, the world has changed dramatically in what is known as the 4thindustrial revolution. It is suggested that the 4th industrial revolution will change human lives dramatically: Billions of people are connected by mobile devices and have unlimited access to knowledge and technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing are ongoing (Schwab, 2016 - Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum Geneva).
 
The 4th industrial revolution followed three previous revolutions that took place in the last 200-300 years. Each revolution focused around a technology that changed the way people live and work. The 4th industrial revolution dramatically affects the job market as it elicits questions about future models of professionalism and occupations. Specifically, the 4thindustrial revolution increases the demand for qualified scientists and engineers (Frey and Osborne, 2017). 
 
From the high-tech industry’s perspective, the work-study conflict is expressed by the conflicting desires to attract the best talents, the best-qualified, and best educated scientists and engineers, but to hire them before the competitors do, even before they acquire the best education that the university can offer them. 
 
Israel is known as "the start-up nation" (Sensor and Singer, 2009); it has more start-ups than in all of Europe, is second only to the Silicon Valley, ranking first in the number of start-ups per capita. This fact is partially explained by the constant survival mode the State of Israel is in and the high level of the Israeli universities. The Israeli spirit of innovation attracts many multinational companies who subsequently establish R&D centers in Israel (e.g., Intel, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, see List of multinational companies with research and development centers in Israel). 
 
In the next section, we describe how the study-work conflict is expressed at the Technion.
 
Study-Work Conflict: The Case of the Technion
 
In an attempt to characterize the study-work conflict at the Technion, we distributed an on-line survey to the 10,000 Technion undergraduate students, asking them about their perceptions on the integration of study and work.
 
Method and Sample 
We received full data from 1937 students (response rate of ~25%, mean age 24.51(, 728 of whom were women (37.6%, similar to their proportion in the cohort of undergraduate students, Table 2). Slightly more than half of responders (n=977, 50.4%) were working students (Table 3 presents students' working status by school years), which roughly reflects the “working students” rate in the ten most popular engineering departments for Technion undergraduate students.
 
Table 2. Students' working status by gender
 
Working status
Total
Gender
Not working
Working
 
Men
592 (61.7%)
617 (63.2%)
1209 (100%)
Women
368 (38.3%)
360 (36.8%)
728 (100%)
Total
960 (100%)
977 (100%)
1937 (100%)
 
Table 3. Students' working status by school years 
 
Working status
Total
School year
Not working
Working
 
First year
352 (77.7%)
101 (22.3%)
453 (100%)
Second year
285 (60.3%)
188 (39.7%)
473 (100%)
Third year
190 (43.6%)
246 (56.4%)
436 (100%)
Fourth year
92 (25.3%)
272 (74.4%)
364 (100%)
Fifth year and above
41 (19.4%)
170 (80.6%)
211 (100%)
Total
960 (100%)
977 (100%)
1937 (100%)
 
Results and Discussion
Most of the working students work outside of the Technion and mostly in Haifa. Students typically start to work in their first (33.6%), second (28.5%), or third year (24.5%) of their studies, and most work up to 20 hours a week (68.7%).  This implies that many students experience the study-work conflict from a very early stage of their studies.  
 
There were no significant differences between working and not-working students in their perceptions of the main reasons for students' decision to work (χ2 = 4.18, p = .652). Overall, 1087 (56.1%) of participants perceived that the main reason to work while studying is economic, while 788 (40.7%) indicated the desire to gain experience as the main reason for students to work (see Table 4 for perceptions of main reasons to work by working status).
 
 
Table 4. Perceptions of the main reasons students workby working status
 
Working status
Total
Main reason why students work
Not working
Working
 
Economic reasons
523 (48.1%)
564 (51.9%)
1087 (100%)
Desire to gain experience
406 (51.5%)
382 (48.5%)
788 (100%)
Out of interest
3 (50.0%)
3 (50.0%)
6 (100%)
"All the students I know work"
11 (61.1%)
7 (38.9%)
18 (100%)
"My studies are not challenging enough"
2 (66.7%)
1 (33.3%)
3 (100%)
"No more indulgence, it's time to make an effort"
3 (37.5%)
5 (62.5%)
8 (100%)
Other
12 (44.4%)
15 (55.6%)
27 (100%)
Total
960 (100%)
977 (100%)
1937 (100%)
 
Next, we asked the working students whether they would be willing to replace work with a scholarship. Specifically, we asked them to rate the probability they would accept an offer to receive a monthly scholarship at the level of their current income, committing not to work but rather to invest their time in studying. Only, 28.6% indicated they would definitely accept the offer (100% probability); 39% indicated they would most probably accept the offer (more than 90% probability).
 
Taken together, these results suggest that the study-work conflict cannot be fully explained by the economic needs of the students. Rather, students “willingly” combine study and work with the goal of gaining work experience in mind. This finding implies that the conflict cannot be resolved by economic solutions, such as scholarships or loans, but rather, a more proactive approach should be sought after. 
 
2.     Conclusion and Future Directions 
Our theoretical analysis and supporting data suggest that a work-study conflict is very much present at the Technion.
 
A proactive response that will take into account the three forces involved in the study-work conflict is thus needed. Next, we briefly describe the Technion’s proactive response to the study-work conflict, namely the #Ladders program.
 
Instead of fighting the complex social phenomena, which involve global forces beyond the Technion’s scope (that is, the Y-generation and the 4th industrial revolution, see Section 1), the Technion responded to this multi-faceted conflict by launching the #Ladders program. Just like other organizations that strive to prosper, #Ladders simply exploits the core strength of the Technion, which is research. 
 
Specifically, #Ladders exposes Technion undergraduate students to the advanced research that takes place at the Technion in a variety of ways including, for example, paid work in research projects and labs. 
 
We suggest that the research skills that students gain through #Ladders are essential skills for scientists and engineers in the job market of the 4th industrial revolution era. #Laddersmimics the free market; it is not a course, nor a mandatory part of the curriculum, nor an internship or a scholarship. #Ladders offers Technion students the opportunity to work as members of research teams in on-campus paid research jobs. This option enables students to achieve the experience (as well as the financial gain) they wish to acquire while working outside the Technion in high-tech companies. 
 
Indeed, all three forces potentially gain from the implementation of #Ladders#Laddersprovides students not only with a salary but also with a meaningful work experience, and thus addresses the two motivational factors for working while studying. Further, research skills encompass many of the 21st century skills needed in the future job market (e.g., the ability to cope with uncertainty and ambiguity and overcome failures, interdisciplinary setting, teamwork, communication skills, ethical norms, fund raising, entrepreneurship and innovation). These research skills give science and engineering students a competitive advantage in any career they will choose to pursue. 
 
#Ladders exposes undergraduate students to the research that takes place at the Technion, thus adding an excellent workforce to the faculty members’ research labs and potentially increasing the number of excellent candidates for graduate studies in the short term, and the number of candidates for faculty member positions in the long term. 
 
As a result of the #Ladders project, the tech industry also stands to gain employees with skills that are a better fit for the future job market. This is especially true for the many multinational R&D research centers located in Israel. Clearly, research skills are needed and#Ladders imparts those skills exactly to the best students in Israel. 
 
The Technion case study shows how a university can proactively address a social phenomenon–the study-work conflict–by exploiting its core business, that is, research, emphasizing the relevance of research skills to the future job market. It further illustrates how an all-lose situation–the conflict that the three forces face–can be turned into an all-win one that takes the interests of all three forces involved into consideration. The impact of #Ladders is the next research topic to be explored now. 
 
3.     References
American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2017). The Future of Undergraduate Education: The Future of America.  https://www.amacad.org/multimedia/pdfs/publications/researchpapersmonographs/CFUE_Final-Report/Future-of-Undergraduate-Education.pdf

 
Berman, E. P. (2012). Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine, Princeton University Press.
 
Binkley, M., Erstad, O., Herman, J., Raizen, S., Ripley M. with Rumble, M. (2010) Defining 21st Century Skillshttp://cms.education.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/19B97225-84B1-4259-B423-4698E1E8171A/115804/defining21stcenturyskills.pdf
 
Coomes, M. and DeBard,R. (2004). Serving the Millennial Generation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
 
Curran, T., & Hill, A. P. (2017). Perfectionism Is Increasing over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences from 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin
 
Curtis, S. and Shani, N. (2002). The Effect of Taking Paid Employment During Term-time on Students’ Academic Studies, Journal of Further and Higher Education, Vol. 26, No. 2, p. 129-138.
 
Frenkel, A. and Maital, S. with DeBare, I. (2012). Technion Nation - Technion’s Contribution to Israel and the World, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.  
 
Frey, C. B. and Osborne, M. A. (2017). The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, Technological Forecasting and Social ChangeVol. 114, pp. 254-280. 
 
Hall, R. (2010). The Work–Study Relationship: Experiences of Full-time University Students Undertaking Part-time Employment, Journal of Education and Work, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 439–449.
 
Howe, N. and Strauss W. (2003). Millennials Go to College. Great Falls, VA: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Life Course Associates.
 
Jacob, M., Gerth, a, M. and Weiss, F. (2018). Student Employment: Social Differentials and Field-specific Developments in Higher Education, Vol . 31, No. 1, pp. 87–108, https://doi.org/10.1080/13639080.2017.1395513
 
Jason, E., Lane, J. E. and Johnstone, D. B. (2012, Editors), Universities and Colleges as Economic Drivers: Measuring Higher Education's Role in Economic DevelopmentSUNY series, Critical Issues in Higher Education
 
Lingard, H. (2007). Conflict Between Paid Work and Study: Does it Impact upon Students’ Burnout and Satisfaction with University Life?, Journal for Education in the Built EnvironmentVol. 2 (1), P. 90-109. 
 
Monaco, M. and Martin, M. (2007). The Millennial Student: A New Generation of Learners, Athletic Training Education Journal 2(Apr-Jun), pp. 42-46. http://www.natajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.4085/1947-380X-2.2.42?code=nata-site
 
Owen, M. S., Kavanagh, P. S., and Dollard, M. F. (2017). An Integrated Model of Work–Study Conflict and Work–Study Facilitation, Journal of Career Development, 1-14.
 
Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means, How to RespondGlobal Agenda - World Economic Forum.


[1] We would like to thank Prof. Reuven Kats, Ms. Zohar Gilad and Ms. Shlomit Ben-Ish for their collaboration and contribution to the work presented in this paper. 
 
[2]  See the Deloitte research quoted in the LinkedIn discussion:  https://www.linkedin.com/feed/news/firms-cant-buy-millennial-loyalty-1358442/ which quotes. 
[5] See: https://www.station1.org/ -a new nonprofit university without lectures or classrooms founded in 2016 by Christine Ortiz - Dean for graduate education and a professor of materials science and engineering at MIT; See: http://chronicle.com/article/MIT-Dean-Takes-Leave-to-Start/235121/

 
[7] E.g., the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2017 (Shanghai Ranking): http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2017.html
[8] See https://www.technion.ac.il/en/technion-vision/
[10] See https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/which-countries-and-universities-produce-most-employable-graduates