Evaluation of employer engagement in curriculum design: A wise man seeks wise counsel
Penny Neyland and Laura Roberts
In recent decades increasing pressure has been put on Higher Education Institutes not just to provide excellence in education and drive research and innovation, but also to ensure excellent outcomes for students in terms of graduate-level employment. For example, student outcomes and learning gain are weighted heavily in the Teaching Excellence Framework at institutional and subject level. Early career graduates able to develop and apply modern methods at strategic and operational levels are essential for future economic security. However, policy makers, industrial and educational leaders have highlighted concerns in the quality of graduates as they fail to demonstrate key competencies, suggesting (in some sectors at least) there is a breakdown in what employers want and what HE provisions. Concerning shortfalls have been highlighted in Biological and Environmental Sciences.
In order to achieve graduate-employer alignment it is essential curriculums are both employer-informed and practice-driven. Effective, well-balanced curriculums can be created by establishing the skills employers really require and refining current provisions to ensure they satisfy the acquisition of theoretical knowledge and focus on career relevant professional skills. But while employer engagement is common in vocational professions such as health care and accountancy, there is limited evidence to suggest that this has been fully introduced into other disciplines at least within a UK and European context.
The aims of the workshop will be to present and reflect on the findings of our research into engaging employers in the curriculum design of our ecological pathway in Biosciences and to discuss the benefits, difficulties and limitations of the approach. We aim to stimulate discussion on how to improve, learn from best-practice and foster employer-relationships. The case study presented focuses on our experience of creating a steering group of 12 industrial partners from our local environmental sector that were invited to evaluate our ecological programme in December 2018. Prior to meeting, the partners were provided with full access to course content (handbooks, lectures, proformas, assessments) and an outline and rationale of the programme specifications. The meeting was recorded and delegates completed a short questionnaire evaluating the pedagogic approaches. The key outcomes revealed some employers did not consider the pedagogic approaches employed to be realistic in terms of replicating work-simulations. However useful gaps were identified in core knowledge. A juxtaposition was identified with employers suggesting focussing on knowledge whereas pedagogic research has suggested graduates are lacking in technical skills. A range of perplexing outcomes were discussed leading the faculty to conclude that gaps not only persist between graduates and employer-related skills, but employers also lack an understanding of the constriction inherent in higher education, such as large, diverse class sizes and balancing a quality and enjoyable learning experience with real-life processes. The findings confirm establishing a relationship with industrial partners is essential for ensuring graduates develop the relevant skills and knowledge. However, in order to reduce the apparent skills gap the relationship needs to be reciprocal, with employers understanding the pressures of HEI as mass providers of education.
This workshop presents a case study from Biosciences of engaging with employers to design an ecological pathway that will enhance graduate employment outcomes. Following presentation of the case study delegates will be asked to consider and discuss how the approach could be fostered within their own disciplines. The benefits and challenges will also be discussed and approaches to overcome them. It is hoped a range of delegates will be present to evaluate their own experiences with engaging with employers so best-practice can be identified. We predict engaging with employers will be a critical aspect of future curriculum development as national rating systems such as the TEF increasingly consider graduate outcomes as central to a high-quality education. Therefore, this workshop should be of key interest to all teaching focused staff.
Delegates will learn about the wide-reaching benefits and issues associated with engaging with employers to enhance curriculum designs and graduate outcomes.
FOR STAFF USE ONLY : Laptop and projector, access to PowerPoint