Unis all the same sell not working

Universities present themselves as producing employable graduates, but when Paula Baron and Silvia McCormack (both La Trobe U) examined university strategic plans from 2018, they found all institutions sold the same thing, “heavily skills-based, an emphasis on competition and gaining a ‘winning edge’ through education.”

The model comes from human capital theory, with its emphasis on individuals contributing to economic growth through their own education and training. It is, they critically suggest in a new paper, a “competitive and consumerist model of tertiary education” which “ignores the social, cultural and economic factors that impact on the ability to gain employment.”

While they state university plans since 2018 “may evidence a different understanding of employability” they report that then,

  • Graduate employability (GE) was embedded in university priorities: “the plans aimed to educate future workers who contribute to society through the job market; enhance Australia’s economic productivity and provide good employment prospects for students;”
  • Universities pitched themselves having programs to improve employability, without much focus on discipline skills;
  • having employment skills is up to individuals: discipline knowledge is not enough, they need to know how to respond to what employers need;
  • students need to be, “enterprising, competitive, develop entrepreneurial skills and achieve “a successful individual worker identity”: using work integrated learning and career planning;
  • There are, they argue, three problems with graduate employability as universities pitched it;
    • “students internalise these ideas, accepting responsibility for success or failure in the market, which can have negative impacts on their mental health”
    • all universities promote their “winning edge” but offer similar programs
    • “the standard conception of GE tends to narrow the educational focus”

The takeout: “it is difficult to think outside the prevailing neoliberal mindset, but note that there are emerging models that offer new possibilities and which emphasise the importance of contemplating a wider and more holistic vision of the relationship between universities and GE.”



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