The pandemic has resulted in a new way of thinking about higher education – one that focuses on reaching individuals in their homes or personal study spaces. We’ve all been looking inward for the past year or so; focusing on how we can best package up and deliver lecturers, libraries, support staff and many more resources directly into the bedrooms, living rooms and makeshift offices of our students. We’ve been forced to self-examine more than ever before – looking at what services we provide, where we lead and where we can improve as institutions. However, it is vitally important that we do not forget to look outwards, beyond our own universities, beyond the bedrooms and living rooms, in our educational approach.
Getting graduates work-ready
We should support our students beyond simply getting a degree by preparing them to engage in wider society beyond the campus or virtual learning environments. Today’s graduates face immense challenges upon leaving university, so we need to ensure that they are work-ready. Universities should look beyond core skills to train students to meet current and future skills gaps.
However, it’s important not to work to a template of what we perceive as the “ideal graduate”. Instead, we should collaborate with employers and listen to their needs, challenges and expectations. This can then inform how we embed employability skills into our courses and teaching and learning strategies to produce graduates ready to actively engage in future workspaces.
Engaging with employers to shape curricula
When designing new programmes, it’s important to keep employability, industry experience and digital capabilities in mind, to meet the needs of future graduates and employers alike. Collecting feedback on what employers are looking for in future gradates is a vitally useful tool by which to achieve this. So academic programme teams should reach out and engage industry leaders from multinational and global blue-chip organisations as well as more local employers. Looking to industries and businesses, and collaborating with industry professionals, is an effective way to ensure programme design and delivery of value to students.
It’s important to listen to employers at a global and local level and to incorporate as many voices as possible into feedback. Only then will you reflect the full range of employers that your graduates may eventually work with. It is not enough to simply rely on the feedback of a few chosen partners. Whether it comes from a company that has 10 employees or 10,000, good advice is good advice.
Industry feedback in action
Students and industry experts have repeatedly told us that they want shorter, bite-sized learning options. So we’re responding to this demand by designing all new programmes so that their individual modules can be delivered as stand-alone CPD mini courses.
Now we can tell those employers how these courses fit their current and future needs, giving them confidence in our students’ credentials. At the same time, we can boost learner engagement by assuring students that these courses are designed around what nameable employers are seeking, making the value of the course clear.
Students as partners in learning
A useful resource to draw upon in efforts to get graduates workplace-ready is the experiences of the students themselves. As many of our students are already employed, they bring a wealth of knowledge about what is required in the workplace. So listen to your students.
Positioning students as partners in their education and institution enables them to bring that wealth of workplace and industry knowledge to many projects. It also provides direct insights and connections to many companies.
This helps to develop a network of student representatives who are not just “subject reps” but also “society reps”. Ensure that diversity is embedded in this network with a rich variety of communities and voices represented.
This empowers students to be part of improving and enhancing the university experience for themselves and future students while honing their professional skills through their engagement with university staff, committees and project teams.
Paula Reilly is director of academic services at Arden University.