CourseraHow embedding skills now can help students long-term

How embedding skills now can help students long-term


With graduates facing a rapidly changing world of work, universities must ensure employability is built into courses

Round table held in October 2021.

Co-designing curricula and embedding external learning resources from industry can help universities equip students with the lifelong skills needed to survive in the future workforce.

Leaders from academia and industry came together for a Times Higher Education round table, held in partnership with Coursera, to discuss how students could develop skills and establish pathways into jobs. The challenge has arrived as UK universities are under more pressure than ever to embed and scale their skills education.

Timothy Quine, deputy vice-chancellor of education at the University of Exeter, said the university’s degree apprenticeship programmes had benefited from a “full co-design of curriculum” with a focus on embedding employability skills.

“They’ve been really pivotal in increasing our understanding of what employers are looking for. Not only in terms of the broad employability skills, but actually the types of learning,” Quine explained. “In order to be immediately employment ready, there’s a subtle difference between the nature of the curriculum there and the curriculum that we would pursue in a fully embedded programme.”

Deborah Johnston, pro vice-chancellor of academic framework at London South Bank University, said a curriculum and skills framework helped embed employability in every module.

“Certain disciplines have been able to engage with that process very easily and very naturally because the ways that research happens map really well to real-world issues and things that are relevant for employability,” Johnston said. “Other disciplines find that mapping is really difficult, which is not to devalue it, but they find it harder to use that kind of framework.”

At the University of Strathclyde, “the place of useful learning”, external involvement in classes is included throughout the curriculum, said Helyn Gould, the university’s deputy associate principal of learning and teaching.

“We actually have a measure; it’s something that we monitor. The variety of external engagement ranges from guest speakers to placement activity, [all] trying to bring how things are applied in practice into the classroom,” Gould said.

Undergraduates in the Strathclyde Business School, for example, attend employability skills classes with input from various organisations including SMEs and those from the third sector.

Martin Lewarne, director of partnerships at Coursera, said businesses including Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services had created their own certifications to help mould job-ready graduates. While the UK was “lagging behind”, he said, universities in other parts of the world were embedding these certifications into up to 30 per cent of their courses to improve graduate employability.

“We’re hearing time and time again from many of our businesses that we work with, that really the graduates they’re receiving haven’t got the skills they need to hit the ground running,” he said.

Moira Fischbacher-Smith, vice-principal of learning and teaching at the University of Glasgow, said the university’s graduate attributes framework looked at academic, personal and transferable dimensions.

“Working with students as partners has a lot of potential here, having them work with us to design materials, but also communication plans and raising awareness of the skills that are embedded within the courses they already do,” Fischbacher-Smith said.

Doug Cole, deputy director of employability at Nottingham Trent University, asked panellists to reflect on what employability skills are. “There’s so much more of a need to focus on more durable, personal qualities, attitude, behaviour,” he said. “To be successful takes technical skills, absolutely. But what about the kind of people we’re developing?”

The panel:

  • John Barrow, dean for employability and entrepreneurship, University of Aberdeen
  • Doug Cole, deputy director of employability, Nottingham Trent University
  • Moira Fischbacher-Smith, vice-principal of learning and teaching, University of Glasgow
  • Helyn Gould, deputy associate principal of learning and teaching, University of Strathclyde
  • Deborah Johnston, pro vice-chancellor of academic framework, London South Bank University
  • Diana Hintea, associate head of school global engagement and assistant professor of computer science, Coventry University
  • Alistair Lawrence, special projects editor, Times Higher Education (chair)
  • Martin Lewarne, director of partnerships, Coursera
  • Caroline Low, director of planning, University of Lincoln
  • Mark Ormerod, deputy vice-chancellor and provost, Keele University
  • Paul Phillips, CEO and principal, Weston College of Further and Higher Education
  • Timothy Quine, deputy vice-chancellor of education, University of Exeter

Watch the round table on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about Coursera for Campus.

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