After Graduation: is a university responsible for student employability?

Employability. It’s on every Australian university’s agenda now. My experience in the UK has shown how rapidly this moves up the agenda when any country starts to hit rocky economic times.

Curtin University recently won an OLT Project on graduate employability. It aimed to increase understanding of critical issues in enhancing graduate employability and identify support for educators seeking to develop student employability.

The research confirmed that higher education students wanted support in order to identify and develop the skills needed to navigate post-graduation pathways and that they perceived that the lack of these skills was one of the most critical disadvantages they encountered when transitioning into work. This sounds familiar to me.

The OLT project invited some experts to comment on what they’d discovered. Associate Professor Andrea Chester (Deputy PVC, Learning and Teaching, DSC) and I were approached and asked to respond to stimulus posed by Curtin such as: should higher education institutions develop employability? How does the employability debate relate to policy? If the sector were to advocate that it should not develop employability, how could it defend this position?

I was also asked to comment on my experience in the UK, where the connections between the university as the driver of economic regeneration and industry engagement is prominent and where the concept of university ‘after sales’ (the benefits a student can expect from their university in terms of employment after graduation) is alive and well, though the path never a straightforward one.

In Australia, the national WIL (Work Integrated Learning) scheme is a big step forward, demonstrating that we are starting to ask the right sort of questions: what can we do with universities in terms of knowledge economy, to inspire students, to train students and to keep talent local? RMIT is well placed to make this work for our graduates.

As Andrea says, ‘we need a clear message across the sector, and in each institution, around employability and for that to be driven in a very clear and decisive way’. Ideally we’re looking to create a ‘virtual circle’ where students feel that they have bought into the University in the first instance, that they’re looked after when they graduate, and then they put something back in once they become employers – not easy to gain but it’s something we’re working on!

Click on the link if you want to see – and hear – Andrea and I in conversation.

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