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Higher education must resist returning to ‘business as usual’ on employability development

Developing student success, providing students with the opportunity to fulfil their potential so that they can adapt at an individual and societal level, is essential.

Photo: AdvanceHE

"Enterprise and entrepreneurship education can add value through the development of enterprising skills"

Not only will this enable them to be the new leaders, advocates, educators and citizens of tomorrow, but it will help them engage within and across communities, become ethically conscious, sustainably aware and able to view the world through a lens of equality and inclusion.

Student success is complex, and while ‘hard’ outcomes are important we can’t simply restrict measures of success to this. There are many critical themes that are involved in enhancing student success, from employability, student engagement, retention, flexible and hybrid practices to assessment practices – many of these are already key parts of teaching and learning strategies across the globe.

However, just focusing on employability specifically, two recent surveys show:

  • in the UK Engagement Survey (2020), when asked about their skills development, students reported the lowest score for acquiring employability skills.
  • in the Australian Employer Satisfaction Survey 2020, while reporting high overall satisfaction with graduates (84.7%), when asked about the main ways qualifications could better prepare graduates for employment, over 25% of comments referred to enhancing employability and enterprise skills.

In the 2022 QS Global Employability rankings, HEIs from the following countries were included in the bottom 10; Bahrain, Dubai, France, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, USA; highlighting the diversity and complexity of these challenges faced by HEIs globally to enhance employability and student success.

The global health pandemic has compounded an issue higher education has been engaging with for a number of years – the changing labour market. For graduates this is an ever present aspect of graduation, and there is a growing evidence base that enterprise and entrepreneurship education can assist students in navigating the changes in the labour market.

Enterprise and entrepreneurship education can add value through the development of enterprising skills as well as an understanding of the value of these skills in different contexts. While there are a number of opportunities in embedding enterprise and entrepreneurship education, there are a number of challenges to ensuring that this value is actually realised.

“The skills required to survive and thrive during and after the pandemic will be based on uniquely human qualities”

Perhaps the most insistent learning point held out by the studies is the suggestion that post-pandemic, we would do well to resist the temptation to return to ‘business as usual’. The uplift in digital capability, the re-visioning of how work-related learning may be realised in digital environments and the surge in sheer creativity realised by the circumstances of the past two years can themselves indicate the trajectory for addressing future challenges. It can also ensure that HE remains an incubator for enhancing enterprise, entrepreneurship and employability.

The skills required to survive and thrive during and after the pandemic will be based on uniquely human qualities – emotional intelligence, compassion and empathy, and the creativity and metacognitive skills that will allow us to innovate and solve the complex challenges that we face.

This is true not just now but also in the future as we work together to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all – ultimately to make students successful.

Find out more and discover resources from Advance HE on employability and enterprise and entrepreneurship.

About the author: This is a sponsored post by Stuart Norton, a Senior Adviser in Learning and Teaching for Advance HE. Stuart is leading the review and update of the Student Success Framework series. Stuart has worked in Academia since 2003 and joined Advance HE in 2016. Stuart has supported a range of institutions, discipline communities and individual academic and professional services staff through a variety of direct events and consultancy interventions. His work also includes international projects where most recently he has supported HEIs in Lithuania, Bahrain, UAE, Oman and Thailand, as well as regional initiatives with the British Council (Sub Saharan Africa) and the Department of International Trade (MENA). Stuart’s role is diverse and transitions across the core thematic areas of student success, where he takes a keen role in supporting sector-wide learning and teaching policy. Follow him on Twitter: @S_J_Norton.

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