Study examines European OR/MS education

Preliminary insight reveals and addresses misalignment of student education with labor market demand.

By Jeroen Beliën, Hans Ittmann, Marco Laumanns, João Luís de Miranda, Margarida Pato and Ana Paula Teixeira

The Association of European Operational Research Societies (EURO) sponsored a survey [1] of European universities and other higher education institutions (HEI) related to the first phase of the European Study on OR/MS Education. The purpose of the study, held from June to October 2015, was to obtain detailed insight into the current state of O.R education in Europe. It should be noted that EURO currently includes 31 member countries, including the non-European countries of Israel, South Africa and Tunisia. A few of the survey respondents identified their affiliation with European countries that are not represented in EURO (e.g., Ukraine), or stated that they are visiting fellows from abroad (e.g., India); in this regard the terms Europe and European, as used in this article, shall include these respondents.

In keeping with the theme, the survey presents an overview of the most important aspects of OR/MS education at the European level and was:

  • directed at HEI boards, deans and school directors; OR/MS program coordinators; OR/MS professors, researchers and other OR/MS professionals; and
  • aimed at raising awareness for relevant, selected factors in OR/MS education with a specific focus on the following sets of topics: enrollment of students, particularly first-tier students; restructuring procedures; teaching practices; the labor market.

In addition, the survey was designed to canvas the active collaboration of EURO and OR/MS national societies and HEI by utilizing the various society newsletters, mailing lists, websites, etc.

Based on the survey results, a general and shared view of the current status of OR/MS education in European countries is being developed. Therefore, what is presented here are only preliminary insights and results related to the labor market within the OR/MS field. Related literature and additional information can be found in the most recent newsletter of the Croatian Operational Research Society (CRORS), where the survey’s first results and prospects were published, or in the survey on O.R. practice of Ranyard, et al. [3].

About the Survey

As noted, the primary focus of the survey was to get an appreciation and a general sense or understanding of the status of OR/MS education in Europe. Secondly, in cases where there were sufficient participants, a country-specific analysis is possible using the survey results. For countries where there are just too few participants or no participants, a suggestion would be to do a “separate country” analysis. This can be achieved by a separate survey or an analysis of the way the different universities in the country present, offer, handle, etc., OR/MS education in that country. The results, which could be either quantitative or qualitative, can then be used to do an analysis, or comparison, with the results obtained from the entire survey.

The respondents were not obliged to disclose their identity; however, there was an option for those who wanted to provide additional details. To encourage this, a proposal was made to distribute 60 electronic copies of the first book from the EURO Advanced Tutorials series on “Operational Research” (Mansini et al., 2015) among the self-identified respondents.

Finally, assuming promotion of HEI synergies with labor market institutions and organizations, the survey section focusing on the labor market included both general and OR/MS based topics.

Figure 1: Identified respondents.

Figure 1: Identified respondents.

The survey dissemination had good support from OR/MS communities, drawing a total of 191 respondents. Of these, about 31 percent were partially identified, as shown in Figure 1, with regards to their country of origin and where their institutions are located. The country information was crucial to promote comparison between countries, and special emphasis was placed on communicating this issue. In spite of this effort, about 9 percent of respondents preferred to provide only their teaching field, while the other 60 percent did not present any personal information at all.

About 40 percent of respondents (76 out of 191) identified their specific field of teaching (Figure 2). Economic/management represents the largest identified field of teaching, followed by mathematics and computer sciences. These three fields of teaching account for about 80 percent of the identified respondents, while the total of respondents from engineering, exact/pure sciences and other fields of teaching account for the remainder of the total.

Survey Results & Employment

Figure 2: Fields of teaching indicated by respondents.

Figure 2: Fields of teaching indicated by respondents.

The labor market (section E of the survey) is dedicated to the HEI relationships with labor market institutions and organizations. The aspects surveyed cover important considerations related to curricula content, to HEI boards and decision-makers. Indeed, employability concerns and graduate transitions into the labor market are important factors for both program accreditation and students enrolment.

These types of concerns seem to be supported by the results presented in Figure 3. When asked to evaluate how their HEI are promoting the transition of graduates into the labor market (for example, by providing a website, a support office, business materials, professional computer/facilities, professional software, dedicated activities/events and consultation with employers/organizations when designing new programs), on average, about 62 percent of the respondents evaluate their HEI efforts favorably.

Figure 3: Promotion of graduates’ transition into the labor market.

Figure 3: Promotion of graduates’ transition into the labor market.

Consider the following comments and results based on survey questions:
• When asked to comment on the following statement, “In my HEI, there is a dedicated interlocutor to establish and supervise contacts with labor market organizations,” about 51 percent responded positively (excellent – 12 percent; good – 24 percent; satisfactory – 15 percent), while about 20 percent of respondents indicated that they lack sufficient information to respond. Only 29 percent answered “fair” or “poor.”
• Similarly, when asked about the following statement, “In my HEI there is assessment of activities related to the labor market,” about 55 percent agreed to some extent (excellent, 9 percent; good – 22 percent; satisfactory – 24 percent), while about 31 percent of respondents evaluated this statement negatively and 14 percent indicated that they lack sufficient information.

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that the trend changes when OR/MS is evaluated, specifically with respect to the OR/MS field itself. As Figure 4 and Figure 5 indicate, the related topics are negatively evaluated by the majority of the respondents.

Figure 4: Specific promotion of entrance into the labor market in the OR/MS field.

Figure 4: Specific promotion of entrance into the labor market in the OR/MS field.

The more detailed statement, “My HEI specifically promotes entry into the labor market in the OR/MS field” received only about 33 percent positive appreciation (excellent – 5 percent; good – 11 percent; satisfactory – 17 percent), while about 31 percent of the respondents reacted negatively to this statement. In comparison with the general topic as depicted in Figure 3, where only 7 percent of the respondents lacked information, in Figure 4 about 24 percent of respondents indicated they lack information. Does this comparison suggest that about 17 percent of the respondents may consider that specific OR/MS activities for the labor market do not exist or, at least, are not disseminated?

Similarly for the statement, “My HEI provides scientific and technical updates into organizations and institutions, particularly within the OR/MS field,” only about 42 percent of respondents agreed to some extent (excellent – 4 percent; good – 22 percent; satisfactory – 16 percent), while 31 percent of respondents reacted somewhat negatively. Figure 5 indicates that 27 percent of respondents lacked sufficient information. The same remark and conclusion can be drawn in comparing the percentage of respondents indicating lack of information for this specific topic to the general one in Figure 3. In addition, the question in the prior paragraph could be rephrased to: Is specific OR/MS updating being provided into labor market organizations and institutions at the same level and extent as other scientific/technical specialties?

Figure 4: Specific promotion of entrance into the labor market in the OR/MS field.

Figure 5: Providing scientific/technical updates into organizations/institutions within the OR/MS field.

From the results it seems that the promotion of specific OR/MS activities and the corresponding general activities are not uniform. An immediate suggested action could be to map any existing barriers for specific OR/MS activities and re-assess the most important drivers in the labor market, and then better promote the usefulness of OR/MS activities to improve their alignment with the general activities of HEIs in relation to the labor market.

Concluding Remarks and Prospects

Possible European-level actions to support OR/MS education include coordination of efforts in different countries and avoiding replication and improving resources utilization, especially in the case of HEIs that are under severe financial constraints. Enhancing relationships with labor market organizations and institutions will improve graduates employment opportunities, by aligning the OR/MS education content and teaching practices to the labor market needs. This will also foster students’ enrollment by communicating such specific attributes.

Other options include promotion of OR/MS activities to HEI directors and decision-makers within engineering and exact/pure sciences programs in order to promote the OR/MS relevance. Furthermore, by looking beyond labor market concerns, through these actions the awareness of the importance of OR/MS for students’ enrollment, the success of first-year students, restructuring procedures and teaching practices shall also be properly addressed.

The study provides useful insight in the way HEIs from different European countries address and describe OR/MS education. The variances between country-specific education and the European situation may lead to more detailed studies. For example, it will be possible to confirm and/or to explain the survey results by interviewing identified respondents. Presenting the survey results at congresses and conferences can spur further discussions about enhancing OR/MS education and OR/MS prospects.

This article only presented preliminary results; further analysis will clarify the key- and sub-factors impacting OR/MS education that will hopefully direct subsequent study phases. Those colleagues (a contact list is available at https://ec.europa.eu/eusurvey/runner/ORMSeducation) who were involved in disseminating the survey results at a EURO level are encouraged to pursue the study. The study approach and the interest shown by many academics may enable extending it to other IFORS regional groupings.

Jeroen Beliën is an associate professor, faculty of economic and business, University of Leuven, Belgium. Hans Ittmann is a research associate with the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. Marco Laumanns is a research staff member of the Business Optimization Group in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Department of the IBM Zurich Research Lab. João Luís de Miranda is an adjunct professor, School of Management and Technology, Polytechnic Institute of Portalegre, Portugal. Margarida Pato is a faculty member of the Center for Mathematics, Fundamental Applications and the Operations Research School of Economics and Management at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. Ana Paula Teixeira is faculty member of the Department of Mathematics, University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, Portugal.

References

  1. Belien, J., Ittmann, H.W., Laumanns, M., Miranda, J.L. Pato, M.V., Teixeira, A.P., “European Study on OR/MS Education: first results and prospects,” CRORS News Magazine (CRORS, Croatia, April-2016). ISSN: 1849-2762 http://hdoi.hr/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CRORS-News-Volume-3-Number-1-April-2016.pdf
  2. Mansini, R., Ogryczak, W., Speranza, G., 2015, “Linear and Mixed Integer Programming for Portfolio Optimization, Springer Series “EURO Advanced Tutorials on Operational Research” (eBook).
  3. Ranyard, J., Hoffman, K., Rosario, E., Dunstall, S., Ittmann, H.W., 2011, “O.R. Practice Stream,” IFORS Conference, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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