Bridging the gap between academics and business with the help of open-source

On April 25, 2024, I was honored to speak at the International Annual Scientific Conference organized by ISMA. The mission of the conference is to bridge the gap between academics, students, and business by providing a platform to talk about technologies, management, and workflows. With all the parties having their own goals, it is a perfect place to find common ground, highlight problems, and build bridges.

My research was focused on how to address teamwork-related issues when preparing students for their careers. A crucial skill required by any business but often neglected by academics.

The question is open – are postgraduate students trained for teamwork and what can we change about it? The answer could be around the corner.

Postgraduate employment rate

Before we speak of any problems related to teamwork, we need to understand the data behind postgraduate student employment.

A low employment rate can signal a lack of qualification or a struggle to find a corresponding position for postgraduates. At the same time, we need to accept the fact that the employment rate can be impacted by many micro and macroeconomic factors and can not be taken for granted.

To narrow down the scope and exclude several global factors, we will be looking at the employment rate within the European Union.

According to Eurostat, the employment rate of recent graduates aged 20-34 in the European Union in 2022 was 82.5%. The data is calculated based on postgraduates who have completed their studies one to three years ago and are not in further studies.

Postgraduate employment rate in European Union

It is worth noting that male has historically higher rates of employment compared to females but the latest efforts of the European Union are bridging the gap between them.

It is also important to acknowledge that the rate of employment among postgraduates has gone up by 7% starting from 2014. It may signal improvements in the overall level of education and the growing economics of the European Union. We can also see that the employment rate of postgraduates has fully recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic.

If we compare this data with the overall employment rate among the citizens of the European Union (75.4%), postgraduates seem to have better chances of finding jobs.

At the same time, almost 18% of all postgraduate students struggle when it comes to finding applicable positions. The number can be considered as high by taking into account that businesses nowadays have fully adopted the practices of remote work.

One of the reasons for the lower employment rate can be related to the high costs of hiring and onboarding.

Hiring and onboarding

According to the research conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management, companies spend $4,700.00 on average to hire and onboard a new employee.

Many experts believe that the number is substantially higher when talking about white-collar workers. The costs for hiring such an employee can easily triple or quadruple. Of course, these are positions where students with higher education find themselves as the best fit.

The costs consist of two main components – hiring and onboarding. The hiring costs may include recruiting agency fees, human resources, and campaigns. The onboarding costs include the setup for an employee as well as all related training.

On average, companies spend around 62 hours to train a new employee. As collateral damage, businesses may experience a drop in performance related to the absence of senior specialists who are often involved in the training process.

When it comes to the training process, that includes an introduction to general policies as well as workflows and processes. The goal is to successfully integrate a new employee into the organization.

Referring to the definition of organization – it is an organized group of people with a particular purpose. With that in mind, we can say that teamwork is the very core of the organization. It is a factor that contributes most to the success and ability to reach goals.

For employees, the ability to work in a team is not just a skill set – it is a necessity. For postgraduate students, understanding teamwork is a must if they want to be hired and succeed in their careers.

Teamwork in higher education

While everyone agrees with the importance of understanding teamwork, higher education struggles to provide the necessary support for cultivating the skills needed for working in a team.

Higher education is not focused on developing skills and practices required for efficient teamwork as stated by Todd Zakrajsek and Jonathan Sim. Instead, it is solely focused on providing extensive knowledge about the study domain while surprisingly neglecting soft skill development.

What are the reasons for not addressing such an essential skill set? The problems are on both sides – academics and students.

  • Study curriculum: teamwork is usually not an integral part of specific subjects where all focus goes to an individual effort and evaluation. Even though there are courses dedicated to teamwork, like Agile methodologies, they rarely have a connection with other subjects of the program.
  • Difficulties of evaluation: academics often find it difficult to evaluate an individual effort within a group. Not being present during the working process, they can not recognize the correct amount of contribution.
  • Delegation: to avoid evaluation bias (mentioned above), academics tend to delegate it to students which produces conflicts and adds additional pressure.
  • Lack of motivation (free riders): all students are not motivated equally which results in a lack of contribution. Individual students tend to rely on the effort of their peers who are motivated to complete the assignment.
  • Disregarding peers (bulldozers): self-proclaimed leaders often ignore the ideas and suggestions of their peers. It leads to lowering the contribution and internal conflicts within a team.
  • Lack of recognition: individuals who contribute most may feel a lack of recognition if not evaluated fairly compared to their peers.
  • Lack of communication: the formation of groups for academic teamwork may not be natural. Students are often forced to work in a group with people they would not choose to collaborate with under different circumstances.
  • Lack of experience: students often miss the managerial and leadership skills needed to successfully lead a group of individuals and achieve goals.
  • Time constraints: there is not enough time for a team to mature. Such teams lack workflows and processes to be efficient and achieve desired results.

As seen, the academic environment is facing multiple challenges and lacks the necessary solutions. What makes things complicated is the need to overcome those challenges on different levels to be successful.

Open-source and teamwork

To foster teamwork among students in the academic environment, we need to look for applicable solutions that have proven their effectiveness in the field.

The business environment has already invested effort and resources into cultivating teamwork and collaboration. The question is if those tools, methods, and practices can be integrated into the academic environment.

One of the fields, where we can see collaboration thriving is open-source. Everyone is free to use, study, modify, distribute, and contribute to open-source projects. The ability to contribute is the main driving force for the mind-blowing success of open-source projects like WordPress, Git, and Kubernetes.

No surprise that open-source projects are well accepted and adopted by businesses. The open-source usage statistics speak for themselves:

  • 78% of businesses are using open-source software
  • Over 70% of developers admit that working on open-source projects improved their skills
  • Over 90% of developers rely on open-source software components to speed up their work
  • Open-source maintains a 33% lower organizational cost in the long run
  • 21% of contributors are getting paid by their companies for contributions to open-source projects
  • 61% of businesses contribute back to the open-source projects of their choice

With these bold numbers in place, open-source projects look like a promising solution for the academic environment to address teamwork-related issues.

Open-source contribution and academics

The ability for anyone to participate in open-source projects and contribute allows individuals to join well-established communities (and projects) without restrictions. For the academic environment, this means that individual assignments can be substituted with contributions to open-source projects.

As a result, it eliminates the need for a traditional teamwork assignment that has not proven its effectiveness. Instead, students are encouraged to join well-established groups of experts and enthusiasts.

With workflows and processes already in place, students receive additional knowledge and experience while working on their assignments. Depending on the project and goals, students can learn the practical side of collaboration frameworks (ex. Agile methodology), working with git services (ex. GitHub), automated tests, and beyond.

More than that, working on open-source projects is not a prerogative of computer science. For widely popular open-source projects, the contribution goes far beyond coding and covers various aspects:

  • Documentation
  • Localization (translation)
  • Graphic design
  • User experience
  • Testing
  • Community activities (social media management, support, education)
  • Marketing

Such a wide variety of activities makes open-source projects available to different study programs, departments, and courses. With proper planning, contribution to a single open-source project across different courses can help to connect courses and develop system thinking (ref. Systems theory).

Benefits of open-source contribution

The applicable solution helps all parties to benefit – from business entities to academic institutions and students.

It helps to bridge the gap between academics and business when addressing critical questions of teamwork and collaboration. It also helps postgraduate students to become more competitive and increase their chances of successful employment.

Benefits: Students

For students, contribution to open-source as a part of academic studies can provide the following benefits:

  • Soft skill development: students can acquire soft skills critical to building a successful career.
  • Teamwork methodologies: students receive practical knowledge about teamwork methodologies and frameworks, like Agile (Scrum, Kanban) and others.
  • Teamwork software: students receive practical knowledge about teamwork software and tools, like git repositories and automated testing
  • Fair evaluation: students can be evaluated fairly by removing the challenges and biases related to typical academic teamwork.
  • Individual recognition: students receive individual recognition not only from the academic staff but also within the open-source communities.
  • Personal branding: students can develop and nurture their personal branding early in their careers.
  • Networking: students can build connections and discover career opportunities within the open-source communities.
  • Remove “forced” collaboration: students are not forced to work in groups that are formed against their will by academic staff.

Benefits: Academic institutions

Adoption of open-source contributions for academic institutions can provide the following benefits:

  • Brand recognition: academic institutions put themselves on a map of open-source projects to increase their reach and brand recognition.
  • Higher quality: academic institutions provide education of a higher quality by introducing an additional focus on teamwork. It allows to increase the competitiveness of postgraduate students and improve prestige.
  • Partnership opportunities: academic institutions can discover new partnership opportunities by collaborating with the business sector.
  • Contribution: academic institutions can advocate for contributing to the open-source projects in use. It can help them to tailor the project to fit their needs.

Benefits: Business

For businesses, academic commitment to open-source can provide the following benefits:

  • Hiring: businesses can discover potential employees right in the community. It can significantly lower the costs of discovery and reduce the need for recruiting agencies.
  • Onboarding: businesses need to spend fewer resources on onboarding since potential employees are familiar with the tools and methodologies used within the organization.
  • Open-source: open-source projects, as a business, receive more contributions that can fuel their growth.

Challenges of open-source contribution

The biggest challenges for introducing contributions to open-source projects as a part of academic studies are related to changes in study programs and individual courses.

For the academics, it means not only changing their mindset but also adjusting their course materials. Academics need to align the goals of the individual assignment with applicable ways of contribution to be able to evaluate students.

More than that, academics should be actively involved in open-source projects. Understanding the project from the structural and functional point of view is crucial to avoiding potential conflicts and issues.

To successfully introduce such an approach, academic institutions need time and resources to onboard their staff and adjust study programs. It may also receive resistance from academic personnel who may find it difficult to adopt the new realities of education.


The importance of teamwork-related skills can not be underestimated. It lies in the very core of business processes and contributes to the success.

Unfortunately, the academic environment is not doing enough to address the issues and narrow the gap between academic and business environments when it comes to teamwork and collaboration.

Contribution to open-source as a solution to foster teamwork in the academic environment is a promising solution that can help transform the way how students receive knowledge about teamwork. It can help remove the challenges faced by academics, students, and businesses making postgraduate students more competitive and reducing the costs needed to onboard new employees.

At the same time, we need to acknowledge that academics must fully adopt the idea and be ready to contribute their time and resources to build corresponding processes to support the idea. It may also require for businesses to educate academic institutions about open-source projects.

Further research in the field is needed in the form of an on-field experiment and expert discussions to see how this solution can be implemented within the academic environment.