Unfinished business

September 16, 2010

The desirability of the relationship between undergraduate education and the national economy has been acknowledged in the UK since at least the 1963 Robbins report. It is often forgotten that the report placed instruction in skills for the economy first in its list of academic aims because it wished (apparently with limited success) that it not be overlooked.

Employers' expressed preference for the "desired mindset" ("We can work it out", 2 September) struck a chord with us. Between 2002 and 2005, we were both members of the Enhancing Student Employability Co-ordination Team that developed the Usem approach to employability. It involved four broad components: Understanding; Skilful practices in context (not naive "skills"); self-Efficacy and personal qualities; and Metacognition. The "E" of Usem is seen as pervading the learning process and palpably resonates with the "desired mindset".

The Higher Education Academy has published a range of documents under the general title Learning and Employability, which will be familiar to some readers. However, the shift in focus of government thinking towards "employer engagement" has diverted the HEA's attention from an initiative that requires rather more time if its effectiveness is to be maximised. Employability is, in our view, unfinished business.

There is more to be done in the areas of curriculum design, pedagogy and assessment in order to enhance employability while - crucially - not diluting academic standards. There is also a need to engage more fully with employers to ensure that they appreciate what higher education is doing in regard to employability. We hope that the HEA will quickly pick up the employability baton and run with it once more.

Mantz Yorke, Lancaster University Lee Harvey, Copenhagen Business School.

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