Integrate employability and internationalisation, universities told

Focus on skills and job readiness 'disengages' academics from issue, says HEA head

December 14, 2016
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Universities should integrate employability with internationalisation and other institutional missions if they are to properly prepare students for the world of work, a conference has heard.

Speaking at the Westminster Higher Education Forum on innovation in curriculum design in London on 7 December, Doug Cole, head of academic practice at the Higher Education Academy, said that institutions should be “smarter” at finding the “synergies” between internationalisation, employability and inclusion, rather than seeing them as “three discrete areas”.

“I think quite often we can deal with these areas in silos – [some] people do employability, [some] people do internationalisation – and actually [we should focus on] how we can make the most of where these areas overlap so we are not having to address all of these areas in a linear fashion,” he said.

Mr Cole added that the language that is used around employability must change, as words such as “skills” and “job readiness” put off academics engaging with the issue and suggest that students are prepared for one job rather than lifelong learning.

He said that it takes much more than skills for students to be successful once they graduate and employability should tackle attitude, behaviour and values, too.

“The language is the thing that disengages people from the outset. We’re taking the spotlight off the things that really matter,” he said. 

“One of the aspirations needs to be how do we develop lifelong learners. There is a danger that if you focus on the job or the skills, they’re going to go out of date.”

It is “really important” that universities “weave” employability through the curriculum, rather than tackling it in standalone modules or placement years, he added.

Karin Crawford, director of the Educational Development and Enhancement Unit at the University of Lincoln, who also spoke at the event, said that students should have “substantial influence in curriculum development through active and meaningful participation”.

“[When] you think about how you engage students in curriculum design, whatever you do it must not be tick-boxing, it has to be real,” she said. “It’s no good having a token student doing something.”

Johnny Rich, chief executive of Push, an independent guide to UK universities, added that academics should be transparent about which employability skills students will learn when advertising their courses to “improve awareness” and “encourage reflection”.

“If, when you are taught about oxbow lakes, you are told you are not only learning geography, you are learning analytical skills, you will pick up analytical skills far better than if you’re just told you are learning about oxbow lakes,” he said.

“That’s what we need to do when we are teaching all subjects.”

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