Durham may reward ‘corporate skills’
22 January 2011
Durham is one of three universities considering awarding marks to students who undertake work experience and demonstrate corporate skills.
Professor Anthony Forster, pro-vice-chancellor for Education on Durham’s senior management team, said the university was keen “to ensure we continue to offer degrees globally recognised for their academic rigour and we produce graduates who are in high demand and stand the best chance of securing the employment they want.”
He said Durham is exploring its curriculum to “allow academic credit to be awarded for student employment or short-term community and work-based placements that have involved the application or development of academic knowledge and skills.”
Courses such as Engineering have long included compulsory work placements, but this is thought to be the first time that the move has been planned for academic courses such as English Literature. University College London’s career unit is also in discussions with senior managers over how to accredit employment skills. Undergraduates at the University of Leicester could earn credits for showing the ability to run a workshop or make a good presentation.
Paul Jackson, director of student support and development at Leicester argues, “there is no difference between academic skills and employment skills. We are looking for students who can apply things in a new context”.
Due to the coalition’s recent decision to increase tuition fees to £9,000 per year, supporters of the proposals argue that students will increasingly choose a degree based on its eligibility in the job market. The Confederation of British Industry said it would be “broadly in favour of universities including more workplace and employability skills in undergraduate courses.”
However critics argue that the proposals will dumb down academic excellence, forcing universities to focus instead on the demands of the corporate sector by producing tailor-made future employees. Academics stress the importance of instilling the life-long ability to think in students, as opposed to incorporating short-term corporate skills into the curriculum.
Mike Molesworth, senior lecturer in consumer cultures at Bournemouth University, said universities were now “reducing their ambition to churning out cheap, job-ready young people to fill the immediate skill gaps identified by corporations.”
Professor Antony Forster however has stated: “At this stage we have not yet placed a value on those credits and any proposals will ensure that we maintain the academic rigour of a Durham degree.”