A growing number of students undertake several work placements and internships over the course of their degree to increase their chances of securing a graduate-level job. But an initiative at the University of Leicester aims to make it easier for undergraduates to learn the range of skills that employers are looking for during their studies.
The institution has announced a new major/minor course, as an alternative to the existing single or joint honours courses, in which students can tailor their degree to reflect their strengths and interests.
Students picking the new “Pathways” programme will be able to spend 75 per cent of their time studying their principal subject and 25 per cent on a secondary element, which can be either one of the university’s existing subjects or one of several new minor areas, such as global studies, management of innovation or ethics.
The first set of new courses, which include 20 major and more than 40 minor options, will be available to students applying for programmes starting in 2016. Further majors and minors will be introduced for the 2017-18 academic year.
The move follows research by the university carried out at the end of 2014 that revealed a big appetite among current students and prospective applicants for more flexibility in degree options. The survey of 2,400 current Leicester undergraduates found that 50 per cent would probably or definitely have chosen a major/minor degree had it been available, rising to 65 per cent of those on social science courses and 72 per cent of international students.
Mark Peel, pro vice-chancellor for student experience at the institution, said that employers have also been “enthusiastic” about the new option, because it allows breadth of study while also enabling students to “flag up areas for focus for their career”.
He added that the course is not aimed at students who are indecisive, but rather those who are “broadly skilled and broadly talented”.
“We’re finding that a lot of students who are talking to us about the pathways approach on open days are not saying they might do this or that, but are coming with a very passionate dedication to two subjects,” he said.
“What our research with schools found is that bright students in particular often have combinations of interests that our university structures don’t predict and they tend to cross our faculty and college boundaries. A lot of students want to do physics and history or chemistry and English.”
While many institutions in the UK offer students some flexibility in the make-up of their course, Professor Peel said that Leicester’s initiative is more “open” and is, in part, inspired by the US and Australian systems.
“A number of universities do provide a degree of flexibility around course structure but they are not always completely public,” he said. “We want to put it out there as a particular type of structure that suits a particular type of student, who is perhaps not served at the moment by the single or joint degrees. Students want to signal to employers and undergraduate recruiters particular vocational skills and interests.”
He added that the new Pathways programme will not provide “a grab bag of modules” for students who want to “taste something and move on”, but rather a “coherent study of a subject over three years”.
However, there will be an option for students to switch from a major/minor course to a single or joint honours degree during their programme, where possible, he said.
Paul Boyle, vice-chancellor at Leicester, added: “The whole idea is to make the curriculum much more sensitive to the real-life needs of undergraduates. [Students] are increasingly realising that employers are looking for a range of skills.”
72 per cent of international students surveyed said that they would probably/definitely have chosen a major/minor degree if it had been available
The University of South Wales
A website that shares techniques to improve the employability of graduates has been developed by the University of South Wales. The Enhancing the Curriculum Toolkit offers practical teaching guides and subject-specific case studies for developing students’ skills in areas such as innovation, adaptability, resilience and flexibility. Fifty lecturers from 20 institutions contributed more than 100 guides for the project, which was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
Glasgow Caledonian University
Scotland’s first international care home “Olympics” has been hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University. A team of elderly people from Charleston, West Virginia, flew to Glasgow to compete against care home residents from across Scotland at the event on 19 September. Sports included cycling on static bikes, bowls, basketball and a wheelchair obstacle course. Other events with a Highland Games theme included tossing wellies and cuddly toys in the air.
The University of Warwick
A university is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a new edition of a pioneering student cookbook first published in 1972. Compiled by the University of Warwick Student Union and the wife of the first vice-chancellor, Lady Doris Butterworth, Simple Scoff brought together recipes and cooking advice from students and other members of the university community. It has now been updated by students and staff working with the current vice-chancellor’s wife, Lynda Thrift, to include recipes such as raw-food pizzas and caramel chocolate-chip brownies.
The University of Cambridge
Man-made and natural catastrophes will cost the world economy more than $4.5 trillion (£2.92 trillion) over the next decade, according to new predictive techniques developed by academics. The “Catastronomics” method, created by scholars at the University of Cambridge for the insurance firm Lloyds, predicts that cities across the world will lose at least 1 per cent of their output during this period. Researchers hope that looking at such costs will enable policymakers to invest in making cities more resilient.
The University of Bedfordshire
Researchers have made a series of recommendations for improving the recruitment and retention of student nurses and midwives. A team at the University of Bedfordshire found that while most student nurses and midwives are committed to their studies, they do not always feel accepted as part of a professional team when they go on a placement. The researchers said that this could explain why there are high dropout rates in these fields in both professional and academic settings.
Soas, University of London
A British academic and yoga expert’s pilgrimage to the world’s largest religious festival has been screened in a BBC Four documentary. In West Meets East, which aired on 8 September, James Mallinson, lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical Indian studies at Soas, University of London, travelled to the river Ganges in northern India for the Kumbh Mela festival. There he was ordained as a mahant, a cross between an abbot and a brigadier, by an ancient order of master yogis – the first time a Westerner has received the honour.
The University of Nottingham
Initial findings from a major European study have helped to identify key characteristics of severe asthma that will help with the development of new treatments for patients with the condition. The research, involving academics at the University of Nottingham and published in the European Respiratory Journal, found that while patients with severe asthma take greater amounts of anti-inflammatory treatment, they still had higher levels of inflammation in their airways.
The University of Bath
A university hosted a conference on the science of rugby just before the start of the Rugby World Cup last week. The University of Bath held the World Rugby Science Network conference on 15 September, which explored injury prevention, player development and coaching science. The University of Cape Town was set to host the second half of the conference the following day, with talks from both universities streamed online.