41.1 - Quality in Higher Education Vol 13 No 1 April 2007...

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Quality in Higher Education, Vol. 13, No. 1, April 2007 ISSN 1353-8322 print; 1470-1081 online/07/010057-11 © 2007 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13538320701272755 Revisiting Key Skills: A Practical Framework for Higher Education PETER WASHER * ifs School of Finance, London, UK Taylor and Francis Ltd CQHE_A_227183.sgm 10.1080/13538320701272755 Quality in Higher Education 1375-8332 (print)/1470-1081 (online) Original Article 2007 Taylor & Francis 13 1 000000April 2007 PeterWasher [email protected]; [email protected] ABSTRACT This paper proposes a practical framework for key skills that can be used or adapted for use in any discipline at university level. The paper begins by reviewing the arguments for and against integrating key skills into higher education. Although the skills agenda has been widely criti- cised on several fronts, this paper argues that key skills need not threaten the notion of a liberal education. Rather, it argues that revisiting the issue of key skills in university curricula can enhance content learning by promoting experiential and active learning innovations. Finally, it examines some of the issues relating to implementation of such a framework. Keywords: Key skills; employability; graduateness “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!” The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim. Hard Times , Charles Dickens, 1854 Hard Times opens in a classroom, a nightmare vision that serves as a microcosm of the wider cruelties of the age. In the book, Thomas Gradgrind’s vision of education was as a factory. For him, the sole purpose of schooling was to manufacture future workers, with no imagi- nation or aspirations beyond the drudgery of the industrial workplaces for which they were destined. The proponents of the so-called skills agenda are sometimes characterised as harbouring a similar nightmare vision of what higher education is, and what it is for. If we were to replace the word ‘facts’ with the word ‘skills’ in the passage above, then it echoes the debate around the efforts to make graduates more employable, or at least the attempt to equip them with the skills employers say they want. This paper reviews the arguments of those who express concerns with the employability or skills agenda and will question the claims made by those opposed to this agenda. It will argue that while many of the criticisms of the skills agenda have some validity, the world in which graduates are expected to compete for jobs and then function as entry-level staff does * Head of Academic Staff Development, ifs School of Finance, 100 Cannon Street, London, EC4N 6EU, UK.
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