Graduate employability is taken as a good measure to show the quality of education and reflect the reputation of educational institutions. Is it true?
Yes, it is important and relevant, but that should not be the sole reason. There are deeper questions that do not often get addressed in public dialogues about higher education: what is the purpose of higher education today and the future? What do we want to achieve for the young talent we are nurturing? Or are we (educators) nurturing them in a true sense of providing wholesome and holistic education?
Curriculums should be designed to equip graduates with learning and thinking skills.
These questions challenge us to re-imagine the role of university and educators (lecturers) beyond that of graduate employability.
Our curriculum has been designed to focus on content. Yes, content (subject matter) is important and the curriculum should have breadth and depth.
This is to ensure we produce competent graduates in their disciplines, such as food technologists, pharmacists, doctors, engineers and economists. Unfortunately, the scenario in the marketplace is changing rapidly.
Employers are looking for multi-talented, multi-skilled knowledge workers. They are looking for people equipped with 21st-century skills, in addition to knowledge and competency on subject matters. These are the skills that need to be embedded in the curriculum design and inculcated in students through courses.
In other words, when we talk about graduate employability, we talk about the employability of our graduates for jobs that do not even exist.
I believe that the key is the curriculum and the catalyst is the lecturers (educators). We should change our mindset that our role is not only to teach but to nurture, that is, to nurture students to become lifelong learners.
As futurist Don Tapscott said: “It’s not what you know that counts anymore. It’s what you can learn.” In this regard, the curriculum should be designed in such a manner that our graduates are equipped with learning and thinking skills to make them more versatile, flexible, resourceful and adaptable.
When our graduates possess these skills, then they can learn new skills and adapt to the new environment. How do we incorporate a lifelong learning model into our educational framework?
It is obvious that our education system must no longer emphasise task-specific skills but must focus instead on developing learners’ decision-making and problem-solving skills and teaching them how to learn on their own and with others.
Achieving these goals requires a change in the way learning takes place and the relationship between learners and teachers.
Our graduates need to be equipped with the skills and competencies they need to succeed in the knowledge-economy. These include mastery of technical, interpersonal and methodological skills.
Technical skills include literacy, foreign language, math, science, problem-solving and analytical skills. Interpersonal skills include teamwork, leadership and communication skills. Methodological skills include the ability to learn on one’s own, to pursue lifelong learning and to cope with risk and change.