Learning and earning : graduate skills for an uncertain future
conference contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by P Candy
It is often claimed that universities are among the most enduring institutions in the western world. In part this is because they perform certain distinctive functions that are valued in our society (such as the disinterested pursuit of the truth, the preservation of our cutural heritage, and acting as a social conscience and critic). In part, however, it is also because they have been extremely adaptable; reinventing themselves both in anticipation of, and in response to, changing social imperatives. In recent years, universities throughout the world have had to adapt to a widespread requirement to be more closely aligned with the needs of the economy, and to produce employable graduates. This demand has come from at least three directions; from Governments, from employers and the professions, and from students and graduates themselves. Accordingly, universities have had to be more attentive to the demands of employment, which subdivide into two elements: the technical knowledge and skills required to function effectively in the workplace, and a set of generic attributes or personal transferable skills such as communication competence, teamwork, computer skills and personal organisation. Given the complexity of most modern workplaces, this represents quite a challenge in its own right. But in addition, the world of work is constantly changing, and, no matter how well prepared a graduate might be through his or her studies, it is certain that continuing learning will be required in order to keep abreast of changes and, if required, to change careers entirely. As a result, university courses must prepare their graduates for a lifetime of continuing learning: some of which will be subject-specific, and some of which will be generic and context free. Accordingly, the skills and attributes of lifelong learning sit on the intersection between, and to an extent unify, these two aspects of university study. However, as already mentioned, universities are expected, and indeed are funded, to perform other functions besides vocational preparation, including supporting the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Thus they have a responsibility to provide for the lifelong learning needs of their students, their graduates and, indeed, of other members of the community. This has implications not only for what and how they teach, but also for other aspects of how they are organised and how they relate to other education and training providers within the community. In this paper, it is argued that a concern with lifelong learning, and with the skills and attributes of the lifelong learner, unites the historic and the contemporary roles of universities, their development of generic and of situation- or context-specific outcomes, and their social as well as their academic mandates. As such, it represents a major unifying construct and a robust theoretical framework for universities, especially in times of rapid and pervasive change.