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Strategy, theory and practice; exploring the employability agenda in a global university Sarah Speight Natasa Lakovic Lucy Cooker.

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Presentation on theme: "Strategy, theory and practice; exploring the employability agenda in a global university Sarah Speight Natasa Lakovic Lucy Cooker."— Presentation transcript:

1 Strategy, theory and practice; exploring the employability agenda in a global university Sarah Speight Natasa Lakovic Lucy Cooker

2 What were we interested in? What did the research literature say about the purpose of HE in relationship to ‘employability’ How did this fit to the mission and values of the university (as stated in strategy docs)? Did university stakeholders see ‘employability’ the same way?

3 Why were we interested? Launched 2008 in UK (pilot 2007) Launched 2011 in China/Malaysia (pilots 2010) As of January 2012, 2000 students in UK (80 modules available), 300 in China and Malaysia (6 modules available) Academic Director appointed August 2010 Award successful but is it sustainable, who does it serve ?

4 Faculty take up, Advantage Award Autumn 2011

5 Background: report to MB, Feb 2010 The Award aims to provide a ‘principled and process- driven pathway’ through the curriculum in the broad areas of: – Preparation for professional life and lifelong learning [with an emphasis upon reflective practice] – Service for the public good – Personal development – the attitudes and skills to manage own growth

6 Expanding learning outcomes 2008: oral & written communication, team work, learner autonomy, problem solving, critical thinking, professionalism, IT literacy, numeracy 2011: as above + sustainability literacy, cultural sensitivity/global citizenship, internationalisation, community engagement, exposure to a ‘graduate’ workplace, commercial awareness (CSR, including 3 rd sector), entrepreneurship (growth led by individuals, little articulation with institutional strategy)

7 Headline Results: High Controversy It is a challenge to switch students' focus from getting a degree to being learners and developing themselves beyond the basic requirements of their course. Employability is a different and separate issue from subject curriculum, teaching and learning. Employers value most attributes such as: communication skills, time management, efficiency, an ability to evidence CV details through examples Employability means to develop people's potential in all sorts of areas so that they turn into people with a special quality of mind and personality.

8 Tensions: what is employability, how & where is it taught or learned? Purpose of higher education in the 21 st century Excellence or access, individual success or contribution to society, positional good or public good (Calhoun, The University and the Public Good, Thesis Eleven 84:7, 2006) Responsibility – of the institution to its students, of its staff, of its students Curriculum – breadth, depth, the relationship of academic learning to other learning; purpose of academic disciplines

9 Global Context Learning for ‘unemployment’ & ‘underemployment’ (Sen, Development as Freedom 1999, 94: ‘unemployment has other serious effects on the lives of individuals, causing deprivations of other kinds’) Education for sustainability (EfD) or for sustainable development (ESD), or just ‘Sustainable Education’ (transformative learning – ‘paradigmatic reconstruction’ – Sterling, Siegel, Dekker) Learning for unknown futures, for ‘supercomplexity’ (Barnett, Learning for an unknown future, Higher Education Research & Development 31, 2012)

10 The language of ‘employability’ Metrics: QS Top Universities 2011 – Employer Rankings (Nottingham is joint 15 th ); High Fliers 2012 Graduate Market Report 2012 – Nottingham the 4 th most targeted HEI in the UK by ‘top’ employers UoN Plan/T & L Strategy/Employability Statement: ‘benefiting the communities around our campuses’, ‘improving life for individuals and societies worldwide’, developing future leaders, equipping students to be global citizens (

11 Human Capital v Human Development human capital is ‘an impoverished normative model for education because it does not prioritise well-being or an expansive human agency, nor is it underpinned by a transformative notion of development’ (Walker, 2012, A capital or capabilities education narrative in a world of staggering inequalities? International Journal of Educational Development 32)

12 3 definitions of employability follow – can you critique them

13 Hillage & Pollard 1998 In simple terms, employability is about being capable of getting and keeping fulfilling work. More comprehensively, employability is the capability to move self-sufficiently within the labour market to realise potential through sustainable employment.

14 The Higher Education Academy 2006 A set of skills, understandings and personal attributes that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations.

15 Dacre Pool & Sewell 2007 Employability is having a set of skills, knowledge, understanding and personal attributes that make a person more likely to choose and secure occupations in which they can be satisfied and successful.

16 Tensions How is employability taught (once we agree what it is): generic versus academic learning Embedded, integrated or bolt-on approaches Employability as a panacea for other issues (equality & diversity, access, screening) Individual or community Leadership on what level

17 Graduate Attributes as an alternative to Employability Graduate attributes are the qualities, skills and understandings a university community agrees its students should develop during their time with the institution. These attributes include, but go beyond, the disciplinary expertise or technical knowledge that has traditionally formed the core of most university courses. They are qualities that also prepare graduates as agents for social good in an unknown future (Bowden J, Hart G, King B, Trigwell K and Watts O (2000), Executive Summary, Generic Capabilities of ATN University Graduates. Available at:

18 Research Project The objectives of the project were to describe and examine: – Stakeholder views on an ‘employability’ curriculum (what kind of learning was valued). – The perceived place of employability within the mainstream curriculum. – Student/Staff perspectives on the Nottingham Advantage Award. – The role of personal and academic tutors in student self and professional development. – Perceptions on current and future needs as well as challenges associated with student career support and employability.

19 Data Set

20 Phase 1: Interviews with 2 UNUK schools Phase 2: Q-Methodology with 2 UNUK schools Phase 3: Interviews at UNNC

21 Q-Methodology Statement bank created from Phase One interviews Statements ranked by Phase Two participants in a 7-point Likert scale (from ‘most agree’ to ‘most disagree’) Statements placed onto an opinion grid making possible a quantified ‘attitude map’ of the domain of interest.

22 Results HIGH IMPACT AGREE :the highest average value: that is, which statements were most strongly agreed with; it does not show the distribution of agree/disagree values. HIGH IMPACT DISAGREE : the lowest average value: that is, which statements were most strongly disagreed with; it does not show the distribution of agree/disagree values. LOW IMPACT: the middle range average: that is, which statements did not generate strong opinions and/or were ranked neutral/don't know HIGH CONTROVERSY: the highest standard deviations, namely, which statements created the most polarised opinions. LOW CONTROVERSY: the lowest standard deviation, which statements created the least differences in opinions THE MOST INTERESTING STATEMENTS: the combination of impact and controversy (HIA+HIC, HID+HIC, HIA+LC, LI+LC )

23 Least Controversy Employability and recruitability are the same or rather overlapping concepts (generally ‘don’t know’) Graduate employability is connected to the development of students as reflective practitioners and critical thinkers (generally neutral)

24 Stakeholder views: Students employers valued most a set of generic skills and that individual schools needed tailor-made approaches to employability. employability means to develop potential in all sorts of areas so that individuals acquire a special quality of mind and personality. (students as a group were open to new and fluid ideas on employability, although they defined this instrumentally, focusing on the CV.)

25 Stakeholder views: Employers ‘highly agreed’ that what students did within their curriculum was linked to employability and that the development of students as reflective and critical thinkers was important. highlighted the importance of student societies. thought that it was important to start thinking about employability early. thought that it was part of a tutor’s role to inform students of employability and careers opportunities and training

26 Stakeholder views: Staff had the highest agree score for the challenge of switching student focus from getting a degree to becoming learners. with regard to the connection of academic and employability learning, academic staff either did not have a strong opinion on this or were on the agree side. academic staff highly agreed that employer engagement enhanced the Award. This might signal (not necessarily) an idea that employers and the Award (i.e. training for employability) are seen as separate from the subject curriculum.

27 Additional Themes from UNNC Institutional performance in Employment metrics Inter-disciplinary learning enhances employability ‘Western’ knowledge and its relationship to employability Tutors working on 2+2 degrees or Foundation years feel that they can leave the responsibility for employability to colleagues working with students at later stages Employers want ready-made employees (according to UNNC staff) Importance of specific careers initiatives such as the ICPD (International Centre for Professional Development) The Award needs to be fit for purpose in the Chinese context The role of Family connections in planning for and gaining employment The Chinese system of learning and expectations of Chinese learners The speed of change – job market, economy, society

28 UNNC Data strong consciousness of difference on the part of staff and students. need for Nottingham to ensure initiatives developed in the UK are customised for China and Malaysia (i.e. Within the global university, understanding the host culture/context is crucial)

29 Research Conclusions: Award philosophy The Award has shifted in line with the research literature, now taking a capabilities rather than a skills- focussed approach: Its curriculum as a vehicle for ‘ethically inclusive and humanly rich goals for development’ (Walker, 2012). These goals, by ‘focussing on human freedoms contrasts with narrower views of development, such as identifying development with the growth of gross national product, or with the rise in personal incomes (Sen, 1999, p.3). The Award as a provider of ‘opportunity’ and means of recognising ‘achievement’ and ‘contribution’: Martha Nussbaum (‘Our campuses are producing citizens and this means we should ask what good citizens of the present day should be and should know’ (Nussbaum, 1997, p. 8) The Award as one part of a university education that prepares graduates to be ‘agents for social good in an unknown future’ (Bowden 2000).

30 Research Conclusions: Stakeholder perceptions there is a disconnect between how the Award (and Careers and Employability Services in general) see employability, and how some University stakeholders see this: relationship (the role of the academic curriculum in employability) responsibility (should professional services deliver ‘recruitability’ and academic schools ‘employability’?) Understanding (of learning for employability) the literature and employers agreed that the academic curriculum was the essential location for employability learning, while students and tutors were unclear about this. Yet the shift in HE in the UK and Australia is from ‘attribute development in specialist modules or extracurricular activity to a more holistic approach that embeds employability as part of academic learning’ (Harvey, 2005, ‘Embedding and Integrating Employability’, New Directions for Institutional Research 128).

31 An ‘information asymmetry’ Li, Morgan and Ding, 2008, The expansion of higher education, employment and over-education in China. International Journal of Educational Development, talk of ‘information asymmetry’ between graduates and employers in terms of skills or capabilities required. This research suggests that there are two prior stages of reducing internal asymmetries between stakeholder groups in order to achieve first, a common understanding of what we want our students to develop into and to be, rather than what do we want our students to acquire or obtain? Secondly, of reconceptualising the curriculum as a bigger & broader space that spans the whole student experience.

32 A new framework for graduate attributes This framework stresses being rather than acquiring and having: Students as Life-wide Learners: simultaneous learning across different spaces Students as Life-long Learners: preparing for learning throughout life Students as Personally Literate: personal literacy is defined as the ability to ‘read oneself’,’ to be critically aware: an ability that can unite the employability and academic agendas, reducing conflict between them’. Students as Critical and Reflective Practitioners: pedagogies which foster critical and reflective learning, case-based and problem-solving learning Students as Society Participants (student societies, volunteering, any collaborative and supportive engagement) Students as Community of Practice Participants: collaboration within and contribution to a community of practice Students as Change and social justice agents /Researchers: giving authority and agency to students to do research which can make a difference both to the institution and to wider society.

33 Sara Parkin, founding director, ‘Forum for the Future’, author of ‘The Positive Deviant’, 2012 Avoid clashes of values e.g. Wealth = Anglo-Saxon ‘wela’ = wealth or bliss – abundance of resources bringing well-being, welfare But, unknown impact of the new fee regimes on student and graduate behaviour. Have we scored an own goal?

34 Barnett, Learning for an unknown future, Higher Education Research & Development 31, 2012

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