Posted tagged ‘Dublin City University’

What do employers want in graduates?

September 13, 2011

One of the recurring themes in public discussions about higher education in these islands over recent times has been the apparent dissatisfaction by employers with the attainments and skills of graduates. It is sometimes suggested that university graduates are not sufficiently literate and numerate and are often inadequate communicators.

An interesting initiative in response to this is the ‘Generation 21’ project recently launched by my former institution, Dublin City University (DCU). This is how the university describes the initiative:

‘Generation 21 is a culmination of extensive consultation with DCU staff, students and employers in Ireland and overseas on the attributes, skills and proficiencies they consider important in graduates today and in the future. A key element of Generation 21 includes the graduate attributes programme which identifies six key important attributes every DCU graduate will have after graduation and which are underpinned by proficiencies and skills that they will acquire in their university years, through full engagement in university life, both inside and outside the lecture theatre. The attributes which DCU will foster in each of its graduates are: Creative and Enterprising, Solution-Oriented, Effective Communicators, Globally Engaged, Active Leaders, Committed to Continuous Learning.’

DCU undertook this project in response to the findings of a survey of employers that it commissioned, and this has some interesting results. Asked to identify the attributes of graduates that are most important, respondents suggested they should be ‘hard-working’, ‘flexible’, and ‘results-driven’. On the other hand, attributes considered to be less of a priority were ‘globally aware’, ‘enterprising’ and ‘enquiring’.

This assessment of priorities might seem rather curious, because on the face of it these priorities suggest that the additional value typically provided by higher education is seen as less important, and that employers are not particularly looking for entrepreneurial talents. Indeed this may imply that employers are far from clear what it really is they want from universities, and that graduates with initiative may not particularly be what they are looking for.

I have no doubt that universities should take seriously the importance of providing students with key skills that will assist them in the labour market. I wholly support DCU’s initiative. However, it may be important for universities to realize that employers themselves are not often clear about what they are looking for, and this should inform discussions with them.

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New DCU Chancellor

August 5, 2011

I am delighted that my former university, Dublin City University, has appointed Dr Martin McAleese to be its new Chancellor. His appointment will reinforce DCU’s status as an ambitious university that also attaches huge importance to educational values, economic development and social progress.

Martin McAleese is an honorary graduate of DCU, and the ceremony at which he and President McAleese were conferred a few years ago was one of the highlights of my presidency. Through this award we were able to recognise the extraordinary role that he played in promoting peace and reconciliation, often behind the scenes, in Northern Ireland.  Subsequently he initiated the Your Country Your Call project, designed to lift recession-bound Ireland out of the negativity and pessimism that was threatening the country’s recovery.

I am confident that, guided by its new Chancellor and led by my successor Brian MacCraith, DCU will go from strength to strength.

Gaudeamus igitur

July 14, 2011

All this week Robert Gordon University is holding its summer graduation ceremonies. I have always enjoyed these events, in all of the universities at which I have worked. In Trinity College Dublin they were (and, I believe, are) entirely in Latin; and the Provost has no active role at all, and does not speak (in any language). The University of Hull matched TCD for formality, though in the vernacular; well, the sort-of vernacular, in the sense that there was no requirement to use the remarkably strange Hull accent.

The conferrings in DCU and RGU both have an interesting mix of the formal and informal, and both seem to me to work very well. Graduations are of course milestones in a student’s life, and should be celebrated in a dignified ceremony. But they should also reflect a sense of achievement and joy, and this is best expressed in some moments of informality and sheer good humour. It is n ot an easy balance to strike, but both universities do it well, and this is confirmed by unsolicited comments from graduates and their families and friends.

For those presiding (which in DCU was always me, and in RGU is either the Chancellor or me, taking it in turns), a key task is to shake avery graduating student’s hand. During my ten years as President of DCU, I believe I shook about 25,000 graduands’ hands. There is a slight physical strain involved, but some might wonder whether there is also a hygiene issue. On one occasion at a graduation a student being conferred refused to shake my hand, loudly explaining that he had hygiene-related concerns about doing so.

Did he have a point? Well – and I am grateful to this website for the reference – this has been the subject of some research in Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The researcher in question ‘got the idea for the project after years of attending the Bloomberg School’s graduations and wondering what would be growing on the dean’s hand at the end of the day.’ This was what he found:

‘Our study indicates when shaking hands, the rate of hand contamination among graduating students to be 100 times lower than the 17 percent rate observed among health workers caring for patients known to be colonized with MRSA. Reasons for the lower rate of contamination at graduations include the much briefer and less-extensive contact in a handshake and what we presume is a lower prevalence of MRSA in graduating students compared to hospital patients. Another reason may be that subsequent handshakes could remove pathogens acquired in an earlier handshake.’

And this is his very reassuring conclusion:

‘With a lower bound estimate of one bacterial pathogen acquired in 5,209 handshakes, the study offers the politicians, preachers, principals, deans and even amateur hand shakers some reassurance that shaking hands with strangers is not as defiling as some might think.’

As a semi-professional handshaker, with four more graduations to come this week, I shall embark upon my task with renewed confidence.

The significance of work experience

January 19, 2011

At an international gathering recently on innovation in teaching and learning, one speaker suggested that no university degree course that did not involve some work experience would soon be acceptable. There was some discussion as to what constituted ‘work experience’: some argued that doing the course work was ‘work experience’, another felt that most students these days took paid work anyway to fund their studies, and a few expressed strong reservations about the whole idea of work experience as a component of academic studies.

This issue has been given a further context by a recent survey in Britain by an organisation called High Fliers Research. According to the Guardian, this is what they found:

‘A third of graduate vacancies this year will be filled by applicants who have already worked for their new employer as an undergraduate, according to a poll of 100 recruiters which underlines the increasing value of internships. The majority of employers said it was unlikely that an undergraduate without any work experience would get a job.’

Academics sometimes argue that university programmes are not about vocational training, and therefore work placements might not seem to be an appropriate ingredient of university studies. On the other hand, universities are well aware that post-graduation employability is a key factor in student choice.

The reality probably is that work placements will become increasingly common across higher education. Dublin City University did some pioneering work in this area, and from its early days required (and still requires) students across all subjects to include a work placement in the formal degree programme, as an assessed part of the curriculum. We considered this to be not just a key marketing tool for the university, but also an important educational support for the students, and indeed a good basis for nurturing industry links. There is no doubt that it greatly assists graduate employability. However, work placements are of value only if they are properly planned, worked into the curriculum and monitored while they are taking place.

Should all universities do this, or is this incompatible with the ethos of some institutions? Do work placements suggest a particular view of education, or do they have general value? In fact more generally, are we sufficiently clear as to what constitutes the general ethos of higher education, and how much diversity of method can there be?

For myself, I have no doubt at all about the value – maybe even necessity – of work experience. But it may be that we need to address this more generally in the context of the changing pedagogy of higher education.

University anniversary

January 13, 2011

Exactly 22 years ago today, on January 13 1989, the Irish government then led by Charles Haughey announced the establishment of Dublin City University and the University of Limerick. At the time both institutions were designated as ‘National Institutes of Higher Education’.

DCU and the University of Limerick had a massive influence on how universities operate. Unlike the established universities at the time, they had close links with industry, focused on particular areas of study and research, and allowed students to gather experience through work placements. Many of their innovations have now become standard across the sector. As young universities, they have had remarkable success in gaining international recognition. DCU became by far the youngest university to enter the global top 300 league table in 2006.

The presidents of the two universities at the time were Danny O’Hare (DCU) and Ed Walsh (Limerick). They should still be proud of their legacy.

The next phase

September 23, 2010

As some readers of this blog may already have heard, I have been appointed to the post of Principal of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. I shall be taking up the appointment in March 2011. For those who may not have visited it, Aberdeen is an extraordinarily beautiful city in North-East Scotland, and the university has established a magnificent reputation, indeed having just won the accolade of Sunday Times Scottish University of the Year. So as coincidence would have it, I am moving from this year’s Irish University of the Year, to the Scottish one. While of course I shall miss DCU, I am looking forward to the challenge and excitement of RGU, and to working with some extremely talented colleagues.

Judging from yesterday’s traffic on this blog, I suspect that we have already acquired some new Scottish readers, who are most welcome. During the months ahead, I shall continue to publish posts on higher education in Ireland and elsewhere, but you may find a Scottish angle emerging in some of these posts. I do however intend to keep at least some of the focus of this blog on Ireland – in equal measure with Scotland eventually  – and I may in due course seek a co-editor  from Ireland so that the Irish items remain accurate and up-to-date.

Some of you have already emailed me in the course of yesterday, but to all of you, whether from Ireland, Scotland or elsewhere, I would like to convey my thanks for your support and for your interest in this blog.

Higher education diversity

July 29, 2010

One crucial issue facing Irish higher education over the next while will be institutional diversity. Broadly the question goes like this: we are a small country, so why do we need seven universities that cover more or less the same territory, and a dozen or so institutes with the same mission, and some other colleges? Why not identify a specialism for each and then ensure they are the best they could be in that area? Or maybe, why not identify one or two all-rounder institutions, with everyone else occupying a niche?

At one level this direction could only be travelled if we were to have a wholly dirigiste system of national strategic management of the sector. If we were to specialise in this way, someone would have to direct this process, because it is unlikely that bilateral or multilateral discussions between the institutions themselves would achieve this. On the other hand, if we all occupy the same space, it may be that we cannot achieve national critical mass at all in some key areas, because the expertise would be excessively diluted between colleges.

In some ways DCU might find this discussion easier than some, because it, alone of the Irish universities, has pursued niche status. It has not sought to have a presence across all the major disciplines, and does not address a number of key subject areas that other universities might find indispensable. But of course this position has been reached by an autonomous process of strategic planning within the university, rather than being an output of a national plan.

It is my view that the institutions should collaborate much more to distribute provision in areas where too much duplication does not seem sensible. But I have no faith that a better distribution can be worked out by national agencies, necessarily dominated by civil servants. In the end, autonomy has to trump all that, because it is the guarantor of excellence; but within that autonomy, the institutions should be looking much more openly at the possibilities of adjusting provision, and through that process, ensuring a level of diversity that will in fact be attractive to our external supporters.