Kuwait Community

13 March 2023

Academic Institutions and Their Failure to Prepare Students for Humanitarian Work


As mentioned above, depending on what career an individual chooses to pursue, academic institutions may provide many strengths for future careers. For professions that require post-graduate studies such as researchers or lawyers, academic institutions teach students the importance of curiosity by providing them with an inquisitive nature for learning and knowledge. Moreover, they promote self-learning by teaching students study methods and time management skills, both of which are helpful when pursuing further studies and academic-based occupations.  In addition to these skills, academic institutions teach individuals how to engage in critical thinking and analysis through teaching theoretical knowledge and different concepts needed to comprehend academic disciplines.  Ultimately, all the strengths mentioned help students navigate academic disciplines and institutions, eventually facilitating their ability to pursue academic-based occupations. 

On the other hand, academic institutions also have their weaknesses which can hold people back. Academic institutions can often promote a negative sense of competitiveness, driving students to use any means necessary to achieve high marks. Unfortunately, this can impact students in a way that may promote a sense of failure if they do not achieve the marks they wanted. Due to their immense stress and anxiety, students may become unable to focus and complete work on time. However, other than causing stress and anxiety, academic institutions fail to provide students with the practical knowledge needed to pursue industry-related occupations such as humanitarian aid or politics and government. While many college courses provide hands-on experience that students can apply to industry-related occupations, university programs tend to prepare students to pursue careers in academic-related occupations instead. Other than science-based programs which offer experiences in labs, other programs, such as Political Science, do not teach practical applications for non-academic-related occupations. These programs teach students how to pursue law school or to get their Master’s Degree and Ph.D. and become professors or scholars, but they do not provide the knowledge or the experience required to work in industry-related occupations. With the ever-changing environment we live in where simply learning is not enough; academic institutions need to develop their programs to include courses that provide students with practical and technical skills they can apply to industry-related occupations.

Academic institutions, as mentioned above, lack the ability to properly prepare students for industry-related occupations. Specifically, as the focus of this paper, they do not prepare them to enter humanitarian aid work or other similar fields.  While academic institutions teach theory, they fail to instruct students on how to practically apply these theories to their work. In fields such as law, academic institutions do a fantastic job of teaching theory and how to do well on assignments and exams. They provide you with important skills needed to pursue graduate studies such as how to collect and analyze data and write research papers. However, the content provided in current academic programs does not provide students with the practical and transferable knowledge and skills needed to pursue industry-related occupations. The content is insufficient as it only provides theoretical knowledge, and while this may be helpful in humanitarian work such as by teaching students how political systems impact vulnerable people, it is still insufficient on a larger scale. Students in the Political Department, especially those pursuing humanitarian work, need to learn how to conduct themselves with vulnerable individuals and how to work with humanitarian organizations and governments to provide aid. The content we learn fails to teach us how to communicate with vulnerable individuals, engage in active listening skills, build rapport with other organizations, and encourage vulnerable individuals to voice their concerns. Moreover, it fails to teach us about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into establishing and running a not-for-profit. Learning these skills and many others is crucial for going into humanitarian work, and unfortunately, I did not feel prepared for the work that I was going to do in my Co-op.  

While I understood that my involvement with vulnerable populations would be an important part of my role at Kuwait Aid Network (KAN), I was not prepared for the groundwork needed to prepare a not-for-profit.  Understanding that, as KAN is a grassroots not-for-profit organization, building up the organization’s capacity and best practises were extremely important. Basic administrative and policy work such as creating Employee Handbooks and First Aid Plans are crucial to running an organization, however, this was not taught to us in our academic disciplines. Political Science, for example, fails to explore the inner workings of a not-for-profit organization and instead focuses on teaching students about existing political systems or related organizations that benefit the government, not vulnerable people. In my two years as a political science major, I cannot remember discussing not-for-profit organizations in detail and what humanitarian occupations entail. I recall discussing the United Nations and Amnesty International, but that too was in terms of statistics or on a grand scheme of their overall impact. There was no discussion of not-for-profit organizations that operate on a smaller scale like KAN and how they interact with vulnerable populations in their humanitarian work. Therefore, I believe that academic institutions need to explore the topics of not-for-profit organizations and their operations as humanitarian aids to better prepare students for humanitarian-related occupations. 

This exploration needs to be done to educate students on the behind-the-scenes best practises for a not-for-profit organization and how to interact with vulnerable populations. This could be done with a simple plan with the first few steps including how to incorporate the not-for-profit, setting up the board of directors, creating by-laws, and registering the organization. In creating this plan, students can understand the organizational structure of not-for-profits and the work that goes into creating one, including its policies and legal composition to ensure best practise. It is equally important for students to understand the concept of vulnerable populations and how to interact with them in humanitarian occupations. Given the opportunity, I believe many students would enjoy learning about how to interact with vulnerable populations, including how to make them feel welcome, how to give them aid, and how not to abuse your role as humanitarian aid as well as what to generally expect in these environments. These skills would help them to thrive in the environment of humanitarian work and pursue an occupation in helping vulnerable populations.

In my two years at university, my program has yet to teach me about what has been discussed above. Before coming into this role, my understanding of humanitarian workers was that they are extremely helpful people who constantly meet with vulnerable populations and provide aid. However, this could not be further from the truth. Depending on your role in the organization, you could be doing this or, you could be working behind the scenes with policy, research, and administrative work. Unfortunately, academic institutions tend to operate like a factory floor and produce academic-loving students, but each student perceives the information given to them in different ways. For these types of institutions, there needs to be more practical or conceptual education that can be used in real-life, industry-related occupations and there needs to be a bigger push toward providing students with the opportunity to have practical connections and experiences, especially if they are choosing to work in the humanitarian sector.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Canada Kuwait Aid Network.”

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