Job skills may be added on

March 6, 1998

UNIVERSITIES should consider bolting on crash courses in skills that make students more employable, a government-commissioned report is to recommend. The courses could be part of a wider effort by institutions to show how they prepare students for work.

Academics may need to be trained to build employability elements into their courses and to assess students' aptitude in a range of skills employers expect to find in graduates such as problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis.

The proposals have emerged in a report from consultants Coopers and Lybrand, jointly sponsored by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Department for Education and Employment.

It suggests a range of strategies universities could adopt for skills development, including building employability targets into mission statements and academic plans; appointing skills coordinators and creating support networks; internal pump-priming of skills projects; and changing institutional reward and promotions systems to give greater recognition of teaching and curriculum development.

It argues that institutions and staff could be encouraged to take employability skills more seriously if arrangements to develop them were assessed as part of quality audits and internal quality checks.

The report also suggests institutions should:

* encourage student feedback on skills training

* develop a more active role for careers services

* review links with employers and employer-led organisations

* tailor staff development and training to meet skills requirements.

Patricia Ambrose, CVCP policy adviser for the project, said the report considered a broad definition of employability skills. Many institutions would already be running courses that could clearly demonstrate their development, but others might need to consider creating special modules.

"Essentially it is about being more explicit about skills that are already instilled. But there might also be cases where it is not so easy to integrate particular skills into a degree programme, such as numeracy in the case of an English course. An additional optional module might then be necessary," she said.

How such elements should be tackled by lecturers could be an issue that the new Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education will need to take on board, she added.

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