Dangerous skills perspective

May 9, 1997

TERRY HYLAND's attack is based around a variety of misconceptions, but I will respond to his main criticisms: the lack of any common definition of these skills and their lack of transferability. On both these points he appears to have missed, or chosen to misinterpret, the nature of the current debate.

First, the lack of any common definition does not imply that being more explicit about the skills which a degree programme develops is "fatuous and redundant". After all, there is no clear definition of the precise nature of the cognitive elements each degree should develop as can be seen from the outcome of the graduate standards debate. This does not make the development of these "academic" abilities any less important.

Second, the notion that these are transferable skills, in the sense that they can be applied to any similar situation irrespective of the context, is not the commonly-accepted definition that his article implies. The debate has moved on - as has the nomenclature to core or key skills. Skills should not be seen in isolation from the context in which they are applied, however, it is through being explicit about their importance, and providing for their development, that better prepares students to handle similar situations and circumstances in alternative settings. This seems to me to be a legitimate aim of higher education.

The genuine argument on the place and role of skills in higher education is worthy of a higher standard of debate than provided by this article.

Mark Atlay

Head of staff development and quality enhancement

University of Luton

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