What abilities do we want our students to be able to take away with them on graduation? Knowledge and expertise of their discipline area is one, but there is also a growing emphasis on the skills and attributes that will prepare them for work and life. In the UK, David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, has emphasised the need for graduates to have the right ‘technical’ skills to help them in employment. These sentiments are common to many governments across the globe, and there is now a growing body of research looking at graduate attributes and how they are taught and assessed.
One example is survey of academics across 16 Australian universities by Harpe and David (2012). They identified the following graduate attributes:
• Written Communication
• Independent learning
• Oral Communication
• Ethical Practice
• Problem solving
• Information literacy
• Critical thinking
• Information Communication Technology
They found that 73% of academic staff surveyed believed the above attributes were important, but they also identified difficulties of integrating them into the curriculum. Strong beliefs and/or greater familiarity with graduate attributes amongst the academics in their sample did not necessarily translate into the successful teaching and assessment of these attributes on the ground.
Harpe and David argue that the route to success lies in policies and strategies that encourage a systemic whole-of-university approach, including going beyond what the formal curriculum can offer. Relying solely on individual academics and their ability to integrate attributes into the formal curriculum will not necessarily deliver university graduates equipped for the rapidly changing world of work.
Barbara de la Harpe & Christina David (2012): Major influences on the teaching and assessment of graduate attributes, Higher Education Research & Development, 31:4, 493-510