Updated: I enjoyed speaking today about the Wilson Review alongside Trudy Norris-Grey at the Westminster Briefing event on graduate employability. One interesting question from the floor followed up on Trudy’s comments about the mismatch between the skills developed by students at university and those needed by employers. What did she think higher education was for? By way of explanation, the questioner suggested that universities were trying to do many different things at the same time, and that maybe the development of employability skills and intellectual capacity were two such parallel tracks. (I don’t quote her exactly but hope I have captured the essence of her contribution.)
I thought this was an interesting perspective and one that is often raised in discussions about the role and purpose of higher education as preparation for the world of work. But can we see employability and intellectual capacities as overlapping domains rather than parallel tracks? I’m interested both from a research and from a teaching and learning perspective in the skills and cognitive capabilities history students learn through their academic training. Is it the case that those skills and capabilities are separate from, and therefore need to be supplemented by, employability training? Or is it that it’s difficult to recognise and articulate the ways in which they have value and applicability in both academic and work-related contexts?
It may be that a mix of both is required, but I wonder if we do enough to help students really engage with the processes of academic training and the implications for their future careers. Can we ourselves explain well what that training is equipping them to do, whether it’s history, philosophy, life sciences or economics? I put down these initial reflections in one of the ‘thinkpieces‘ we wrote as a way of getting going on the Wilson Review. I hope that the spirit of trying to see past potential dividing lines (such as between employability and academic training) came through in the final report.