Value added graduates: enabling our students to be successful

Session summaries and materials are now available for the sessions on the Forum blog

University of York Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2016    
Tuesday 7 June, Exhibition Centre, Heslington West campus

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The assumption that universities have a direct responsibility to prepare students for employment is now widely accepted as a key element in our duty of care to students and in how we and our students define and evaluate the 'student experience'.  But how do we strike a good balance between academic and pedagogic principles and our responsibilities to prepare students for the world of work?  

Over the years, there have been many government-inspired initiatives and reports urging higher education in the UK to make a stronger connection with the needs of employers.  These have had limited success, and the extent to which programme level learning outcomes address the progressive development of vital graduate competencies is often unclear.

Employability is defined as a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy. These personal attributes complement specialist disciplinary expertise, providing the confidence to apply knowledge and skills, developing critical reflective abilities, resilience, self-discipline, and improving communication and team working skills.

An ambition to embed these capabilities within a programme implies a preparedness to reconsider the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. It requires an awareness of the need to develop capability beyond specialist knowledge without diluting academic content, sacrificing traditional disciplinary goals, or increasing student workload. Separate employability training distinct from subject specific teaching, ignores the integrated and interconnected nature of these skills within the discipline, and fails to recognise that professional performance requires graduates to demonstrate wide ranging capabilities.

The conference demonstrated and explored ways in which the degree itself can be the primary contributor to the development of students' capabilities. It highlighted best practice in the enhancement and embedding of employability and enterprise within learning and teaching, encompassing programme and module design, problem-based learning, collaborative learning, work-based learning, employer engagement, and assessment. It also celebrated the numerous innovative approaches adopted by staff including greater use of virtual learning environments and the incorporation of active learning strategies.