Generic Skills Focus of Higher Education Agenda – Education Research Paper
Prompt – According to Jones (2001): ‘In the last decade, the concept of a set of generic skills, qualities and attributes that support lifelong learning has become firmly placed on the national and international higher education agenda.’Discuss the major factors which have led to such a concept being placed on the ‘higher
education agenda’. Is there general agreement at a national and international level about what is included in ‘ a set of generic skills, qualities and attributes that support lifelong learning’?
During the last ten years, the agendum of higher education institutions at a national and international level had been placed on by a set of generic skills, qualities and attributes that support lifelong learning. There are mainly four major factors which have led the concept of a set of generic skills being placed on higher education agenda, they are employment, government, society and higher education institutions themselves. Among the set of generic skills, there is a general agreement which support lifelong learning at a national and international level. In this essay we will discuss these major factors separately, then we will focus on to what extent does a set of generic skills that support lifelong learning can get agreement at a national and international level.
To begin with, the most obvious factor in this case is employment. Because of the external pressure from employment sector, higher education institutions have to put generic skills on their agendum, otherwise their graduates can’t find satisfactory job (Jones, 2001). Employment sector can be regarded as customer in this case, and higher education institutions are entities that provide their products—graduates to the customers. For example, in recent years, many multi-national companies pay much more attention on their employees’ communication skills, because their employees have a variety of backgrounds, so whether they can express themselves correctly or communicate with each other without misunderstanding become a significant issue. To this regard, employers ask for employees with good communication skills, then higher education institutions put this skill into their agendum. In other words, most of universities nowadays have to make responses on their agendum as soon as possible as long as employment sector make any changes about its requirements of future employees (NCVER, 2003). So, employment sector becomes the most obvious factor that promotes universities put generic skills on their agendum.
Secondly, government is another important factor that put generic skills being placed on the higher education agenda. Recently, governments have a higher standards of its people in such a fast moving world in order to have highly responsible citizens (Jones, 2001), so governments require their people equipped with generic skills whatever their occupations are. At the same time, there are still some universities do not want to put generic skills on their agendum, to attract these universities’ attention, governments (refers to western and Australian governments in particular) provide funding and quality assurance that linked with generic skills (James, Lefoe, Hadi, 2004). These procedures, in turn, promote generic skills been spreaded among higher education institutions largely. As a result, government become another important factor that place a set of generic skills which support lifelong learning on higher education agenda, using grants and policies.
Another factor that support integration of generic skills and higher education institution agenda is society. With the development of globalisation, the society becomes more and more competitive (NCVER, 2003), and employees nowadays have to compete with more competitors, maybe two or three times more than 10 years ago to get a good job. In such a fierce society or world, higher education institutions should try their best to equip their graduates with more advanced skills, or special selling points, in this case, they refer to generic skills. Therefore, universities are always ready to make any changes that relate to generic skills to their agendum, and inform students and employers about the changes as soon as possible. This can enable students make more informed choice on which university would suit them the best, universities can also promote themselves to potential employers (Fraser, 2001), thus increase their reputation. However, for universities which do not put generic skills into their agendum, it will be very difficult to attract potential students and get grants for their research projects unless they have very high reputation, like Cambridge or Harvard University, but such universities usually have their own generic skills been placed on their agendum. Consequently, the concept of a set of generic skills being placed on higher education agenda because of the competitive society.
Last but not least, higher education institutions themselves also play a part in the process of putting generic skills on their agendum. Since they want to gain a higher reputation, they have to show that they provide the latest skills and knowledge, and their graduates are the best equipped to fit into future work places. So universities are always eager to make any changes that apply to their agendum, especially for generic skills, which is the focus during recent years. For those universities that do not have generic skills in their agendum, it will be very difficult for them to get a high reputation at a national and international level. So, there won’t be many students who want to continue their study in such universities, and governments won’t provide funding to such universities. For this reason, most of the universities put generic skills into their agendum for their own good.
Although there are lots of advantages provided if higher education institutions put the concept of a set of generic skills that support lifelong learning into their agendum, yet some people still argue that there is no point for universities to do this. They argue that the pursuit of the goal of graduates with desirable generic attributes and skills, equipped to participate effectively in society for life, is either unrealistic (Kemp and Seagraves 1995; Drummond, Nixon & Wiltshire 1997; Preston 1999) or a ‘wasteful chimera-hunt’…which ‘should now be abandoned’ (Hyland and Johnson 1998). Personally, I do agree with this point of view to some extent, cause we do not expect higher education institutions teach their graduates everything about generic skills, there is no point to do so, and also unrealistic. Universities can only teach their graduates specified knowledge, and some generic skills, graduates should develop the other generic skills through everyday life. In addition, to what extent a person can develop enough generic skills is still in question, since everybody have different characters, moral and ethical standards, so what is included in a set of generic skills in different people’s point of view is slightly different. Therefore, even the higher education institutions claim that they have a set of generic skills in their agendum, we still can’t expect that every graduates from the university can have the same generic skills.
There is a general agreement about what is included in a set of generic skills, qualities and attributes that support lifelong learning at a national and international level. However, the contents and name of the contents in a set of generic skills in different countries are slightly different from each other, yet they are the same in essence. For example, Jones (2001) categorize generic skills into four groups: 1. the acquisition of a body of disciplinary knowledge, 2. the critical understanding which comes from the communication, application and evaluation of a body of knowledge, 3. the commitment to ethical action and social responsibility, 4. a capacity for employment and lifelong learning. However, in NCVER (2003), generic skills are splited into 6 categories: 1. basic or fundamental skills, 2. people-related skills, 3. conceptual or thinking skills, 4. personal skills and attributes, 5. skills related to the business world, 6. skills related to the community. From these two different articles, it seems that there is great difference between what is included in generic skills at the first glance, but they are the same if you study them a little bit. For example, body of disciplinary knowledge in Jones (2001) is the same with basic or fundamental skills in NCVER (2003), and the commitment to ethical action and social responsibility in Jones (2001) is an equivalent to skills related to the community in NCVE (2003). Moreover, these two kinds of ‘generic skills’ all include lifelong learning in their contents, such as the fourth one in Jones (2001), and conceptual or thinking skills as it is so called in NCVER (2003). So, generic skills which have different names in different countries are basically the same, and they all support lifelong learning.
To sum up, there are four major factors that put the concept of a set of generic skills which support lifelong learning on higher education institutions agendum at a national and international level, they are employment, government, society and higher education itself. In additon, there is a general agreement about what is included in a set of generic skills that support lifelong learning at a national and international level. However, I do think our expectation is too high on higher education institutions, because universities can’t teach their graduates everything included in a set of generic skills, so we should release some pressure from universities, and put it on to graduates, employers, and society as a whole. This maybe the future direction of generic skills development.
Jones, J. (2001). Generic Attributes: an Agenda for Reform or Control. Paper presented at Changing Identities: Language and Academic Skills Conference, University of Wollongong. Retrieved November 29-30, 2001, from http://learning.uow.edu.au/LAS2001/selected/jones 2.pdf
James, B., Lefoe, G., Hadi, M. (2004). Working ‘through’ graduate attributes: A Bottom-up approach. Proceedings of HERDSA 2004 – higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia, Annual Conference: Transforming Knowledge in Wisdom: Holistic Approaches to Teaching and Learning. Retrieved March 2, 2005, from http://www.uow.edu.au.about/teaching/attributes
NCVER (National Center for Vocational Education Research). 2003. Defining Generic skills: At a glance. Adelaide: NCVER
Fraser, S. (2001). Graduate attributes and generic skills at Macquarie University. And Gladly Teche, vol. 1.