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 Many states had a tendency to concentrate some of their universities on a single planet. The theory was that the academic environment and easy collaborations fostered at these locations led to greater innovation.

Having visited the fantastic Leemar System, Ves could see why this might be true. However, he also thought that isolating students on a planet that revolved entirely around their needs might not be the best way to prepare themselves for the challenges they faced in the future.

Spending just a brief amount of time in the idyllic, paradise planet of Cinach VIII firmly gave him the impression of an elaborate greenhouse. The comfort of the students mattered just as much as how much knowledge they absorbed during their time of learning.

Frankly, Ves favored the harsh but highly realistic learning method of the Leemar University of Technology. Useless mech design students who weren't able to keep up never made it to their second year of their courses.

Still, that was an unfair comparison to make. While Rawlings ranked in the top ten universities for mech design in the Sentinel Kingdom, Leemar was considered as one of the top universities in the entire Komodo Star Sector!

Not only that, but Leemar also generously opened its doors a bit to foreign students from third-rate states. The inflow of smart, talented and ambitious students beggared the mind. If the LIT did not implement a cutthroat regime to filter out the ones who fell short of their exacting standards, it would have buckled under the sheer crush of numbers!

That said, Rawlings still attracted an immense amount of applicants from all over the Sentinel Kingdom. Because most of its students came from domestic schools, Rawlings possessed much greater access to the academic records of their applicants. This allowed the university to select those they desired and those who were highly likely to keep up with the course loads.

\"The average excellence of our students is the main reason why our graduation rates are high.\" Professor Rachel Nxi calmly explained as he guided Ves across the green and verdant campus of Rawlings. \"Rawlings has produced some of the most brilliant mech designers in the Sentinel Kingdom, and that has continued to attract ambitious students. By picking the brightest among them, our institution is able to maintain a virtuous circle where our graduates continue to set an example.\"

Ves listened respectfully while he walked side by side with the Senior Mech Designer. Gavin was off to take care of some business while Nitaa respectfully followed him from behind with Lucky clinging to her shoulder like a wet towel.

While Ves wore his full Pride of Dusk regalia to his visit to Rawlings, this was no time for posturing. He raised the spiritual barrier blocking the aura of his overcoat to such a degree that the Professor Nxi only sensed a subconscious pressure, which she easily ignored due to her own mental fortitude.

Right now, it was enough to distinguish his appearance from that of an average student. While his face had matured a bit, he was still young enough that he could easily be mistaken as a student! How could he possibly earn the respect of the class he was about to lecture if he dressed no different from a bro?

\"Sounds like Rawlings has it pretty good.\" Ves answered with some admiration. Rawlings had it really good once they set up this so-called virtuous cycle! \"I take that there are still some points where your school wishes to improve, right?\"

The middle-aged woman smiled. \"There is always room for improvement. Everyone knows Rawlings is among the top ten universities for mech design. However, why are we not among the top five or the top three?\"

\"Because the rankings place you in the sixth to tenth rank?\"

\"As painful as it is for us to admit, that is indeed the case. Ranking in the top ten is an accomplishment, but it is nothing to celebrate about in my eyes.\" Professor Nxi appeared downcast.

\"That is still a great accomplishment. Rawlings stands head and shoulders above hundreds of other institutions in the Sentinel Kingdom. Your university has much to be proud of. Even Ansel, my home state's best mech design university, seems pale compared to this fine school!\"

Professor Nxi ruefully chuckled. \"Come now, Mr. Larkinson. Mech designers such as us base our decisions around facts and logic. If you ignore all of the hype, then our situation is much less impressive than it seems. The competition in the Sentinel Kingdom is immense. Despite our advantages, breaking into the top five is difficult for us because we are weighed down by one disappointing criteria. You've already seen a glimpse of what our school offers to our students. Can you guess the answer?\"

As the Dean of the Mech Mechanics Department, she possessed a vested interest in the standing of Rawlings. For her to be unsatisfied with a top ten ranking meant she took it very personally.

After a brief moment of thought, Ves responded with his best guess. \"While the conditions in Rawlings look great, I don't think the students who graduate are sufficiently prepared to pursue their dream careers.\"

\"That's a good guess. It's very close to the truth.\" The professor looked impressed. \"To be more precise, most of our graduates end up pursuing career prospects. The military, noble houses, Peacekeepers, mech companies and many others rate our Rawlings mech designers highly, because they do well when they are working in an existing structure.\"

That was a peculiar way of describing the success of Rawlings graduates. Ves immediately recognized the category that had been left out by Professor Nxi's deliberate wording.

\"What about the Rawlings graduates who decide to strike it on their own and start their own businesses? Are they doing just as well?\"

The professor replied with a blunt answer. \"No. Frankly, they are not. Despite the financial backing they possess as nobles or the raw ability they possess as prodigies, the mech market cannot accommodate all of them. The competition here is also intense, and only the best startups have a chance of surviving more than five years.\"

The universities that ranked higher in the Sentinel Kingdom evidently did better in this regard. A higher proportion of their graduates managed to achieve success when starting their own business.

This was a very important metric because mech designers who founded and led their own mech companies enjoyed the highest regard in the mech industry!

Every mech designer dreamt of being in charge of their own mech design projects! Those who worked for the military or another mech company simply didn't have the power to set the parameters of their next mech designs!

For this reason, those who worked for themselves also progressed the fastest!

That said, there was nothing wrong with being a dependent mech designer who worked for others.

Some simply didn't have the connections, charisma or ability to attract start-up capital. Most commoners of the Sentinel Kingdom suffered from this problem.

Others might possess a high affinity for mechs but a poor affinity for business. Putting such types in charge was just a disaster in the making. Even noble scions weren't exempt from this problem.

Noble houses that threw in good money after bad were just wasting their money trying to lift off the poor business prospects of these financially-inept mech designers!

Ves found something strange, though. \"Since you seem to recognize this problem, professor, why haven't you done something about it? Surely you must have some ideas in mind to improve the business prospects of your graduates.\"

\"Rawlings University is very large. Even though I am a dean of one of its faculties, my right to speak is not as great as you think it is. Every institution on Cinach VIII, including Rawlings, answers solely to House Gin Tefa. Our esteemed noble masters have their own ideas on how all of the universities on their soil should be run, and have maintained the same policies for centuries, with good results.\"

It sounded as if House Gin Tefa applied a one-size-fits-all solution to every university. No matter if they educated exobiologists, businessmen, psychologists or starship engineers, it was a lot easier to run their schools if they all followed similar templates!

Professor Nxi essentially admitted that her hands were tied on this matter.

\"I see. Surely you must be able to do something within your power, right?\"

\"That's where guest lecturers like you come on.\" She smiled at him with renewed interest. \"I may not be able to steer our curriculum in a different direction, but what I can do is invite independent mech designers to expose my students to those who have struggled through all of the challenges and managed to find their footing in the private mech market. Reading about people like you in a textbook is one thing, but listening to your lessons and words of wisdom in person is another thing!\"

Ves momentarily blinked. Now that he thought about it, that was a great idea. While a couple of guest lectures was unlikely to exert a major influence in the future direction of the students, the added exposure to the problems and practicalities of starting a mech company might raise the chances of success by a few percentage points.

This difference might sound miniscule, but raising just ten or so successful independent mech designers a year was enough to enhance the standing of their school!

\"I understand, professor. You want me to focus on the business side of mech design, is that right?\"

\"Correct. I want those who aim to become an entrepreneur and those who are thinking of working for entrepreneurs to gain a realistic impression of the highly competitive mech market. No matter how much our business courses emphasize the difficulty of achieving success in the private sector, the heads of our students are too stuffed with pride to take them to heart.\"

\"I know the type.\" Ves snorted. He instantly thought back of the spoiled and pampered Ansel brats he once babysitted for Flashlight. \"While they might claim they have learned the lessons, secretly they think they are too exceptional to be counted among the failures, right? Even if only five percent of graduates following the independent route achieve success, none of them will ever admit that it's more likely that they will suffer the fate of the other ninety-five percent!\"

To Ves, it sounded as idiotic as a hundred lottery ticket holders each believing that they were destined to win the jackpot!

\"Ambition is to be cherished, and failure is one of the greatest lessons our graduates can learn. That said, I would really like it if you focus your lecture on raising the business acumen of my students. Will you need more time to prepare your presentation?\"

\"No.\" Ves shook his head. \"It's just two hours, right? I can fill an entire day if you want.\"

\"Our students have other classes to attend.\" The professor smiled. \"I appreciate your enthusiasm. Your confidence is encouraging. I'm sure you will be an enlightening figure to our classes and set a great example for our future mech designers.\"

Compared to addressing the entire Ylvaine Protectorate during a farcical trial that decided the fate of his life, conducting a presentation in front of a class of mech design students was a walk in the park! Ves did not exhibit any trepidation at all!

\"Is there anything else you'd like me to address, professor?\"

\"In fact, there is. I'm sure you know all about our contentious relationship with the Nyxian Gap. It's sad of me to acknowledge this, but there are a number of bad apples among our graduates who failed to achieve the success they dreamt about. Laden with debt and abandoned by their backers, most of them rein in their ambition and become dependent mech designers. However...\"

\"Some can't accept that they've lost. They believe they are winners. They're willing to do everything to prove that they are special.\"

\"It sounds like you already have a good idea of what I'm referring to, Mr. Larkinson.\"

Ves smirked. \"I know the type. There are probably several Rawlings mech designers who run off to the Nyxian Gap in order to obtain a second chance among the pirates, right?\"

\"They are a stain upon the reputation of the Rawlings University! Each year, at least a handful of our mech designers go pirate! While we have done our best to instill our students with the proper values, some of them are too deaf to realize that the road to evil is a dead end!\"

\"So.. you want me to discourage the students from thinking about working for pirates?\"

\"Yes! As an orthodox mech designer who achieved great success, you must set a moral example! Teach them that the only correct path is the righteous path!\"

Ves briefly hesitated a bit. A moral example? Him?

Nonetheless, he did not wish to disappoint the professor's expectation.

\"Have no fear, professor. Morality is one of my strong points! I'll make sure they follow the right path!\"

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