7. Graduate attributes
The issue of how to embed employability into the curriculum is by no means a recent phenomenon. Much of the discussion has centred around notions of what is meant by ‘graduateness’ – i.e. what are the characteristics that we look for in a graduate. Following much debate in Australia in the 1990s, this has developed into a debate about ‘graduate attributes’.
The term ‘graduate attributes’ can be defined as the ‘qualities, skills and understandings that a university community agrees its students should develop during their time with the institution and consequently shape the contribution they are able to make to their profession and society….They are qualities that also prepare graduates as agents of social good in an unknown future’ (Bowden et al., 2000). The QAA Scotland included graduate attributes as one of its enhancement themes in its project on Graduates for the 21st Century. The King’s-Warwick Project was a HEFCE-funded initiative, Creating a 21st Century Curriculum, that aimed to assist academic departments and universities wishing to ‘develop an active and outward-looking curriculum that will enable undergraduates to experience an education that is research-rich, inter-disciplinary, engaged both locally and globally and supports the development of advanced academic literacy’. An international survey carried out as part of this project indicated that graduate attributes were ‘the most discussed outcome of curriculum change initiatives’.
A Google search on the phrase ‘graduate attributes’ shows that many universities in the UK and elsewhere have been devoting enormous attention to the identification of these graduate attributes. A sample list of attributes would be:
- academic attributes
- communication skills
- research and inquiry
- the ability to be a reflective learner
- global citizenship
- ethical leadership.
When designing a curriculum, you should check whether your institution has a graduate attributes framework, as you may be expected to ensure that students have opportunities to develop these attributes within the curriculum, although it may be that some of them will be more readily developed in the co-curriculum. Examples of attributes that can be developed within the curriculum include ensuring that students have opportunities for group work, for giving presentations and for learning about and practising research methods.
Equally important as providing students with opportunities to acquire these attributes is making sure that they are aware that they are acquiring them. Employers have commented that students in interview are often unaware of the skills and attributes that they have been building up during their studies.
Check whether your institution defines a set of graduate attributes and whether students need to be given opportunities to acquire these as part of the curriculum.
 Bowden, J., Hart, G., King, B., Trigwell, K. and Watts, O. (2000). Generic capabilities of ATN University Graduates, Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Available at: https://www.clt.uts.edu.au/ATN.grad.cap.project.index.html
 A useful review of the literature on graduate attributes can be found at http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/7_Graduate_Attributes.pdf