Is there a future for higher education?

There is so much discussion about how to ‘fix’ higher education. Most proposed solutions are based on individuals’ personal past experiences; hardly the best way to address a topic that will evolve in 5 -10 years in an unprecedented way.

At least now we accept that it is difficult to define the impact of artificial intelligence and technological advancements to the job market. Still though we remain romantic about the importance of higher education at any cost.

digital age

Those with a university degree have higher earnings than those who don’t have one, the data suggest. This statement was true in the past. However, in many countries, the price premiums of these degrees have increased considerably during the last years. Also, the demand for the jobs is higher than the supply. When these parameters are taken into consideration, the reality might be different.

Some advocate about the value of internships as an alternative to the almost only option that currently exists for young people (i.e. universities). The reaction to this proposal is visceral. It is easily labelled as an attempt to reduce social mobility.  People still believe that it is better to have a university degree, a large enough debt and a low paid job rather than… Internships might be an option for some in the short-term. It is not though the solution of the bigger problem of the future of higher education.

Higher education is discussed like it is the end of the journey, although it is only the beginning. Even those who have been in employment for some years, they need to consider how they will up-skill or re-train themselves in order to continue to be relevant and employable. Life-long learning will become a must.

The model of the higher education (at least in its current form) needs to be adjusted to the new reality.

I personally don’t expect politicians to take a meaningful stand on this because there is a lot at stake (primarily their re-election). .

I don’t expect the universities to take the lead either. They have so many vested interests in the current status quo.

At the same time, the big corporations (which already now clearly state that they cannot find skilled employees) are not necessarily trusted.

So, who is best suited to prepare the society for the new norm?

Or is it more convenient to adopt the lets-kick-the-can approach?

Or maybe the change will come from the grassroots…

The bottom line: Technological advancements and artificial intelligence will change the landscape of employment and higher education. It is unclear though how the society needs to get prepared for the new norm.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. This problem will not get away. At some point, we will have to face it. Your views might help shape the response.

Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply. She passionately believes in empowering people to  make informed decisions about their career and their finances. She is a senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry and has an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her limited spare time, she wants to join forces with others to help everybody to be a better version of themselves.

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Is ‘Good Enough’ What You Should Strive For?

In a relentless competitive environment, people get overworked; they get involved in many initiatives, their calendar is full with meetings, and the beeping from the incoming emails goes on constantly.

In order to cope, the concept of ‘good enough to proceed‘ has gained momentum. It definitely helps with crossing things from our long ‘to do’ list. Does it result though in our superior performance? Do we end up getting better at specific skill?

“Not necessarily” would be my answer.

The general saying  that ‘practice makes you better’ does NOT hold true. We become better only with deliberate practice. 

Just doing the same thing frequently doesn’t result in becoming an expert. Think about your driving skills. After a while, although you become more comfortable,  the performance reaches a plateau – unless you consciously and intentionally make an effort to improve.

On the other side, is it realistic to always strive for superior results?

We all live very busy lives both professionally and personally. Most of the time, we barely manage to keep it together. Does it make sense to impose ourselves higher standards?

There are reasonable arguments for both positions. Maybe the best way forward is somewhere in between.

My advice is: be selective on where to focus your energy, effort and time.

Identify one or two areas critical for your work and/or your career development and focus on becoming an expert on them. Don’t accept ‘good enough’ standards on these areas. Make a conscious effort to continuously raise them. Small incremental improvements will eventually have a big impact.

Michelangelo-Quote

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Experienced people can provide you with invaluable insights during this journey.

Be patient. It takes time to move from ‘good enough’ to  become an expert. Focus on what you can control. Monitor results but don’t get disappointed if you don’t see the incremental gains immediately.  Remember ‘deliberate practice makes you better.’ Invest time and effort to hone the skills you selected. Persistence is crucial. Do your part of the deal.

You may have noticed that I avoid using the word perfection. Philosophically, I don’t believe that this state is attainable. Hence, I find it more realistic to talk about striving to become better than perfect. But you may have a different view. Whatever motivates you.

The bottom line: Don’t accept ‘good enough’ standards. Identify the skills you want to hone and do your part of the deal.

Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply. She passionately believes in empowering people to  make informed decisions about their career and their finances. She is a senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry and has an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her limited spare time, she wants to join forces with others to help everybody to be a better version of themselves.

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Don’t Give Feedback – Ask for It

I wanted to give some feedback to a colleague since some team members made me aware of a recent situation that was far from optimal.  I thought it was a good opportunity for coaching. When I raised it with the person in question, I got a long and emotional monologue defending the way she handled the situation.

Do you find this example familiar?

It shows that there is a fundamental problem with the current feedback model; its success depends on whether the recipient is open to receive it

If we start seeing feedback as a vehicle to improve our performance, we maybe more open to it. The rewards from the so-called ‘growth mindset’ can be significant.

Think of professional athletes. They have coaches who constantly analyse every little thing they do in order to find ways to improve their performance. We hear in the news that Novan Djokovic will get Andre Agassi as a coach and it sounds perfectly normal. Same thing with senior business people. They have experienced coaches to help them address their development areas.

It seems though that this mentality is less prominent in middle management.

It is of course impossible for any company to hire an external coach for each employee. However, another way to achieve a similar result without any additional cost is to create a community where we help each other to fulfil our potential. Imagine how successful a company that has a ‘growth mindset’ culture can be.

How can this be achieved?

A simple change of the model can yield great results; move away from a culture of giving feedback to a culture of asking for feedback. In other words, don’t give feedback but ask for it.

Ask often. Ask every time you give a presentation. Ask every time you work in a team. Ask different people so you can get different perspectives. Ask people you trust at the beginning but then make a conscious effort to involve a wider circle soon. Ask people to be specific; answers like ‘it was very good’ don’t add a lot of value. Ask what worked well and why, what can I do better next time, etc.

Remember that some people are more used than others in providing constructive feedback. So, try to educate them on what you are looking for. Give them some clues on what you want them to look for. Ask for feedbacl

The more you ask, a) the more specific feedback you will get and b) the more comfortable you will become in receiving it. You will easily spot in which areas you need to focus. The relationships with your colleagues will strengthen.  You will foster a new culture that you and others will benefit.

Note that if you don’t ask, it doesn’t mean that people stop having thoughts about how you do your job better. It simply means that you are not aware and you will miss a valuable opportunity to do something about it.

The bottom line: If you want to fulfil your potential, make it a habit to ask for feedback. You can only gain from it.

Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply. She passionately believes in empowering people to  make informed decisions about their career and their finances. She is a senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry and has an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her limited spare time, she wants to join forces with others to help everybody to be a better version of themselves. 

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Stop Having New Year’s Resolutions

At the beginning of January, most of us have a list of New Year’s resolutions. It feels good to start the year with all the things we would like to do differently this time.  After a few days of indulging ourselves to good food and wine, losing weight and gym memberships usually feature in the top 5 list together with the aspiration of getting a new job and that hobby we always wanted to start but never had time for it.  By the end of the month, this determination has faded. We are back to ‘our norm’ and most of the resolutions are forgotten until same time next year.

Have you ever had this experience?

I used to do exactly what I described above until 10 years ago. Then I decided to stop having New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I started having Objectives for the Year.

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And yes, there is a difference (subtle but significant).

According to Collins Dictionary,  if you make a New Year’s resolution, you make a decision at the beginning of a year to start doing something or to stop doing something whereas, an objective is what we are trying to achieve.  In other words,  resolutions indicate strong willingness and they are usually over-stretched goals; objectives though have the end result in mind and they are realistic.

People in the corporate world are pretty used to have objectives. They are defined after careful consideration of what is vital to achieve by the end of the year.  They represent the key priorities in order to be successful and you commit yourself in achieving them. They are usually between 3-5 (More than 5 becomes a to do list – not a priority list – and the focus gets diluted).

A similar concept can be applied to both our personal and professional life.

Going to the gym used to be a regular New Year’s resolution for me. Many friends and family had tried to convince me about the benefits of regular exercise for years with limited success. Then one day, while I was about to take a flight, a couple in their 60s sat next to me. They look neat, thin and healthy. When we landed, they had to be escorted with wheelchairs.  Then, I made a connection in my mind; I want to be fit in order to be mobile when I am old. Being fit became a priority for me at that moment. Since then it appears on every year’s Objectives. (I still don’t go to the gym – I prefer jogging. Finding the ‘what’ is usually more difficult that the ‘how’.)

A few tips in case you would like to do this exercise:

  • Think holistically; Consider having objectives about:
    • Career,
    • Relationships and
    • Self
  • Phrase them in a way that encourages you to achieve them (e.g. as broad or as specific as you want them to be)
  • It is always more fun when you do this exercise with a friend
  • Keep a copy of your objectives somewhere handy as a reminder ( I have photo of them in my phone)

Review your objectives after two or three months. If you haven’t done much on a couple of them, think again whether they are still important for you. If yes, keep them on the list and do something about them. If not, just remove them or replace them. It is important that they are still reflect your priorities and they are pragmatic.

The bottom line: Remember, it is you who decides to have these objectives in the first place because you believe they can help you become a better version of yourself. If they are important for you, you will find time to do something about them.

Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply. She passionately believes in empowering people to  make informed decisions about their career and their finances. She is a senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry and has an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her limited spare time, she wants to join forces with others to help everybody to be a better version of themselves. 

 

 

 

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b4iapply redefined

When I founded b4ipply in 2011, I was very keen to help young people to make more informed decisions about what they choose to study at the university. The trigger was the significant increase of tuition fees in the UK for degrees with questionable quality (at least in my opinion) and definitely limited career prospects in the future.

Although many welcomed the initiative, they were expecting me to offer them simple off the shelf solutions. In a society which is more comfortable to follow trends (i.e. do what others do), I was asking people to reflect and make their own decisions.

There were also those who misinterpreted my message. They thought that I am advocating for people NOT to go for higher education. This cannot be further from the truth.

My objective was for people to consider higher education as an investment (especially in the countries where they pay for it). Some investments are better than others. Each person has to do his/her own due diligence and not believe everything mentioned in a glossy brochure.  What may work for one person, it may not be the optimal solution for another.

Seven years later, the situation has not changed much.  The education system is very slow to adjust to the fluid new reality and cater for the current needs. Employers continue to complain that they cannot find people with the right skill set while youth unemployment is increasing. Nobody can offer a simple solution because of the complexity of the problem.

During this time, another phenomenon became more apparent. Although the retirement age increases, there is a scarcity of career opportunities for the middle-aged men and women. Many of them become redundant in their early 50s and need to reinvent themselves and explore different career options.

I had the opportunity to read a lot and also talk to many people in order  to get a more

holistic understanding of these issues. Given that systemic solutions take time to be defined and implemented,  I would like to redefine and relaunch the b4iapply initiative as a platform for this wider discussion.

It will be for the benefit of all us to ensure that everybody around us get the opportunity to become the better version of themselves.

These societal changes can happen only when many people join their forces.

If you share this passion, please join along. 

The bottom line: These complex problems cannot be solved with simple solutions. It will require the input and support of many parties with different expertise. b4iapply gets redefined in order to become a platform that can faciliate this wider discussion.

Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply. She passionately believes in empowering people to  make informed decisions about their career and their finances. She is a senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry and has an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her limited spare time, she wants to join forces with others to help everybody to be a better version of themselves. Her b4iapply blog is recommended by The Guardian for professional development. 

 

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As the retirement age increases, how can you get better prepared for the future? (Part 2)

During the previous blog post, we discussed how to make a ‘back of the envelop’ calculation of potential income after retirement versus future expenses. Most of us will be shocked by the findings.  We will realize that we will either have to adjust our standards or make corrective actions in the next few years in order to maintain a similar lifestyle.

I would personally prefer the latter. Hence, I will share with you some suggestions on how to increase the income (inflows) after retirement.

Here are my key suggestions:

  • Make sure you fulfill the conditions to get the full basic State Pension. If you live in the UK, you need a total of 30 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions or credits in order to be eligible for the full basic State Pension. In order to find out whether you have any gaps on your state pension contributions and whether you can pay voluntary contributions to fill these gaps, pls refer to the gov.uk site.
  • Check if you employer offers you the option to match your contributions (i.e. offers to pay more to your pension pot, if you agree to increase your contributions to the scheme too).
  • Capitalize on any tax-efficient additional pension contributions to
    Pensions, retirement, additional pension contributions, financial planning

    Small actions now can have a big impact later on

    private pension schemes.  In many countries, you can receive tax relief for your additional contributions up to a specific amount. In the UK, you can also carry forward any unused annual allowance for tax relief on pension savings from the previous 3 tax years. You can find more information at the HM& Customs Site. It might also be useful to get financial advice. These regulations are complex and change often.

 Note: you cannot have access to your pension pot until later in life. You need to be aware of this when you do your financial planning. Also, remember that the pension you will receive is normally treated as earned income and you will be liable to income tax – but possibly at a much lower rate versus now.


Make investments that will provide you additional income after retirement. 
For example, you can invest in a buy-to-let property. If the rent you receive by then is higher than the related expenses, it will be an additional income. In case the property appreciates, you can also have the option to sell it. Like with every investment,  make the necessary due-diligence before moving ahead.

  • Finally, remember that it is possible to continue working after retirement age. Nowadays, people live longer and want to have interesting lives and add value to the society. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a full time job. Part-time options or consulting can be possible. I have a friend in her early seventies who works as an elections observer for international organizations. She does 2-3 missions per year where she uses her business skills and experience for a good cause. She is a true inspiration to me. So, we can all re-invent ourselves for a second or third career path later in our life.

The bottom line: The earlier you start planning your finances regarding your retirement the better it is. Small actions now can have a big impact later on.

(If you want to get financial advice tailored to your needs, please find an authorised financial advisor in your country. This blog is to help you understand the situation you will face and encourage you to do something about it now.)

Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply. She passionately believes in empowering people to  make informed decisions about their career and their finances. She is a senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry and has an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her limited spare time, she provides pro-bono career advice. Her b4iapply blog is recommended by The Guardian for professional development. 

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As the retirement age increases, how can you get better prepared for the future? (Part 1)

I am in my mid-forties and  I have been working for  more than 15 years at highly demanding jobs. I met many interesting people, went to places that I wouldn’t have visited otherwise and  learnt a lot from the various experiences while going up the corporate ladder. However, it is difficult for me to imagine that I will continue working with this intensity for another 20 years.

When I shared my thoughts with friends and colleagues, most of them responded that even if we want to work until 65 years old, there will be very few jobs for us and these jobs will probably be at a much lower level.

Not to mention that due to the challenges that pension systems in different countries already face, the retirement age will keep increasing and the amount of money we will receive will keep decreasing. Hence, we should not assume that if we do what our parents did, then everything will be ok.

Since we will have to work much longer than previous generations, how can we can get better prepared for the future?

Good financial planning is key to success. The basic concept is very simple. While we are working, our salary (usually) covers most of our expenses (e.g. mortgages, food, clothing, vacation etc). When we will retire though, we want to ensure that our pension (state & private) plus other sources of income are sufficient to cover our expenses.

The earlier we start acting, the better it is.

It would help to do some “back of the envelope” calculations before deciding how to act.

  • Calculate how much money you will need to live when you will stop working at retirement. Write down the key annual expenses; especially the big ticket items e.g. mortgage payments/service charges/rent/private health care insurance/car insurance/food etc). You can also add an amount for the ‘nice to have’ items e.g. vacation, hobbies etc.  This would help you to get a rough idea how much money you will need on an annual basis a) for the basics and b) for a more comfortable lifestyle.
  • Estimate how much money you will receive after your retirement. The key sources will be your pension (both the state and the private one). You probably have a good understanding of the state pension level in the country you live (For example, it will be around £150 per week or £600 per month in the UK). For the private pension, you can usually get an illustration from your pension provider. Otherwise, you can do the calculations yourself. A good ‘rule of thumb’ is to estimate the pension pot you will have at retirement age and then divide it by 25 years life expectancy and get a ball park of the annual private pension. (For example, if your pension pot when you become 65 years old is £350K, then  you may expect £14k on annual basis.)

    mind-the-pension-gap

    Will you have enough money for your retirement?

So let’s take an example:

Kate is 45 years old and her annual salary is £70K. Her current pension pot is £100K. Both Kate and her employer contribute around 10% of her annual salary to her pension pot. If we assume that she will contribute for another 20 years, her pension pot would be £240K  at retirement age (10%*£70K*20 years = £140K +£100K her current pension pot = £240K (Note that we didn’t take into consideration the possible growth of the pension funds depending on Kate’s investment decisions for the sake of simplicity). If we assume a 2.5% growth for the next 20 years, then the pension pot will increase to £335K.

The £335K pension pot translates into £13.4K every year (£335K pot/25 years=£13.4K). If you also add £7.8K from the state pension (£150 per week* 52 weeks = £7.8K), then the total amount from pensions that Kate will receive after she reaches the retirement age will be £21.2K  approx per year.

Note that the income that Kate is expected to have from her pensions at retirement is 1/3 of her current salary. So, her living standards will have to be adjusted accordingly.

My suggestion is for you to do a ‘back of the envelop’ calculation based on your personal circumstances. Keep these calculations simple. It is not necessary to include inflation/growth of investments & taxes. All these definitely will have an impact. However, it is very difficult to make predictions when the time horizon is 20 years or more. The whole point of this exercise is to get a feel of the big picture i.e. what is the gap between your income after retirement age versus the outgoings you expect to have at that age.

The bottom line: Even if you are surprised by the outcome of this exercise  (and trust me you will!), it is better to know the gap between the pension money you will receive and that you would need to have a comfortable lifestyle after retirement so you have time to make the necessary corrective actions.

At the next blog post, we will discuss what we can do to get better prepared for the future.

(If you want to get financial advice tailored to your needs, please find an authorised financial advisor in your country. This blog is to help you understand the situation you will face and encourage you to do something about it now.)

Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply. She passionately believes in empowering people to  make informed decisions about their career and their finances. She is a senior executive in the pharmaceutical industry and has an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her limited spare time, she provides pro-bono career advice. Her b4iapply blog is recommended by The Guardian for professional development. 

 

 

 

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