Skills tests may be made the rule

June 18, 2004

Australian universities may be required to publish test information showing how prepared their graduates are for the world of work.

Federal education minister Brendan Nelson said Australian employers were becoming increasingly critical of graduates who could not function in the workplace.

Dr Nelson said universities could be required to publish the results of graduate skills tests undertaken by their students in return for federal funding.

He said prospective employers could also ask to see how graduates applying for jobs performed on the test.

The Government proposed five years ago that universities should use a specially designed graduate skills assessment (GSA) test to determine whether students were prepared for the workplace.

The Australian Council for Educational Research was commissioned to prepare a test for trial. But the Government deferred plans to make the test mandatory.

The ACER researchers said the test was intended to assess a set of widely applicable skills to graduate work. It covered critical thinking, problem-solving, "interpersonal understandings" and written communication.

Two trials of the test were conducted in 2000 and 2001 on more than 3,600 students drawn from nine fields of study across 28 Australian universities.

Experts who were asked for their views were concerned whether performance on the test would necessarily translate into workplace performance.

They also questioned the extent to which universities deliberately developed GSA-type skills.

Graduate recruiters thought the test was relevant. But when asked for their preferences, they tended to emphasise workplace skills such as applied interpersonal skills.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said a recent survey of hundreds of employers identified eight key attributes that companies wanted in their employees: communication skills, teamwork, problem-solving, self-management, planning and organising, technology learning, initiative and enterprise.

A chamber spokesman said employers would prefer that the eight attributes were better aligned with the graduate skills test. He said that the increasing challenge for universities was to improve the connection between academic learning and the workplace, the spokesman said.

The GSA is not currently used widely by universities.

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