T&L Conference 2009
Following on from a successful inaugural conference in Glasgow in 2008, the U21 Teaching and Learning Network convened again in November 2009. The 2nd Conference took as its theme, “Employability in a Global Economy”. A particular feature of this conference is the diversity of delegates – and I don’t just mean geographically; the event brought academics from a range of disciplines together with careers staff , learning technologists, learning support professionals, senior university managers and academic administrators. The conference took place at the University of Nottingham’s campus in Ningbo, China.
The conference began with a focus on overarching “big picture” issues. The employability benefits of internationalisation were quickly acknowledged – as were the financial pressures that were likely to require universities to continue to think about how to deliver internationally relevant employability skills at home. Universities were challenged about their ability to meet the needs of employers, and academics were challenged to think about how to build genuinely refl ective and critical thinking among their students. Three different papers provided examples of the ways in which member universities were approaching the development, delivery and accreditation of skills relevant to the world of work.
The second day again began with a discussion around the management of teaching learning agendas within research intensive universities and the challenges in moving institutions from a culture which accepts benign competence to one which celebrates excellence and which integrates skills into the curriculum. Examples of this included highlighting the importance of research skills, the development of skills at post graduate levels, the role of learning support, the role of e-learning and the challenges of working within and across specific disciplines. Looking back over the papers, there were a number of strong themes – and tensions – which emerged. The U21 network is potentially in a strong position with respect to the agenda surrounding teaching and learning for employability in a global economy whether through exchange, through sharing best practice or through exploiting the opportunities for cross cultural engagement. The research intensive nature of the member universities has the potential to allow us to offer a distinct skill set to students. The concept of the “T” shaped student – breadth in terms of skills and depth in terms of knowledge – resonated immediately with participants, as did exhortations to make more use of our international students in creating a genuinely international experience for all of our students. But implicit in much of the discussion was the danger of creating a false dichotomy in relation to employability – our rhetoric highlighted the fundamental importance of employability skills but our practice then compartmentalized them into something that is done outside of the curriculum. The real challenge that emerged from discussions throughout the conference at the end of the day related to the genuine integration of the skills and competencies associated with global citizenship into the student experience in its broadest sense. The skills for employability are the skills that make good people – reflection, innovation and problem solving and citizenship – and in that sense they needed to be recognised as integral to what we do, not just an optional extra.