The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the results from the National Student Survey (NSS) have once again brought employability to the forefront of discussions over the nature and content of undergraduate degrees. However, given the conflicting requirements of the Research Excellent Framework (REF) and the TEF, I question how wide is the commitment in Higher Education institutions to making our students more employable. The feedback from employers continues to emphasise the need for skills that are not just subject based. Companies need their new graduate employees to become fee-earning very rapidly rather than being a drain on resources requiring training. I know we have been talking about ‘transferable’ skills for a long time but how many HE lecturers and HE institutions really understand the needs of industry? Are many lecturers just paying lip service to the employability agenda and actually just teaching their specialist subject, and are institutions only looking for staff who meet the REF criteria?
To understand the requirements of industry you need to have worked there. I did my BSc and PHD in the 70s’ and then spent 15 years working as an industrial geologist, reaching the level of company technical director. At the age of 41 I came back into HE as a lecturer – I had no post-doc experience, no RCUK grants, and only 10 case study papers in conference proceedings. What would be the chances of my appointment at an HE Institution now? The senior management would immediately veto my appointment as not being ‘REF eligible’. I suggest that genuinely to engage with the employability agenda people with industrial/commercial backgrounds should be encouraged to move into HE. HE lecturers should also be given sabbaticals that allow them to work in industry for significant periods, rather than just spending time compiling data for their next REF publication or pulling together a major grant proposal. If both these happen then I will start to believe HE is truly looking to produce employable graduates, and not just trying to turn out the next generation of university lecturers.