Session 13

'Skilled worker does not mean stupid': why we need to articulate skills as essential in HE for employability.
Professor Martin Loomes, PVC, Executive Dean Faculty of Science and Technology, Middlesex University London
Dr Celia Bell, Head of Department Natural Sciences, Middlesex University London
Professor Mehmet Karamanoglu, Head of Department Design, Engineering and Mathematics, Middlesex University London

The rhetoric around apprenticeships and FE reforms often focuses on the notion that HE is all about intelligence and knowledge, whereas skills only appear in FE colleges. In the symposium we will challenge this, and discuss how we have been reinstating skills as an essential part of learning within the faculty of Science and Technology. 

Session summary:
  1. We will start by briefly exploring the current policy landscape regarding skills, and how that forces a wedge between FE and HE, threatening to reduce Universities to ivory towers. Against this background we will discuss the crucial role that skills play in deep learning, and the primacy of Ryle’s “knowing how” over “knowing that”.  We will argue that most of the criticisms that employers level against universities regarding the employability of students can be addressed if we get the skills agenda sorted, and help our students to position their learning in this context rather than as knowledge acquisition.
  2. Examples from biosciences, engineering and computer science will be used to illustrate how discipline-based skills can be integrated into learning in ways that enrich the curriculum, and make it more challenging, fun and valuable. We anticipate that these will be a catalyst for discussions around other disciplines.
  3. We argue that once students are working in a culture that values skills, it is possible to generate rich opportunities for developing more generic skills that cross discipline boundaries. We will explain how and why the faculty of science and technology does this, using a variety of settings including competitions, field trips, outreach, exhibitions and events to create real opportunities for developing and demonstrating skills. Many of these might be labelled co-curricula, and include co-design, but we will argue that they are simply part of our approach to teaching and learning.
  4. Discussions will focus on three aspects. (a) The implications for learning in other areas – we believe it transcends disciplines, but that is up for discussion. (b) Ideas for developing a culture of skills development across the institution, and what that means for our infrastructure. (c) Concrete ideas for generic opportunities that cross faculty boundaries.