Graduate quality a growing concern

04 May 2011 | Story by Newsroom

Quality controlQuality control: Attending the symposium were (from left) Nasima Badsha of CHEC; Assoc Prof Simon Barrie; Prof Julian Smith of the University of Stellenbosch; Judy Favish; Dr Carin Musil; and Dr Sharman Wickham, of CHEC.

Improving the quality of university graduates was the focus of a symposium at UCT in March, hosted by the joint task team of the Western Cape Provincial Government (PGWC), the National Business Initiative and the Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC) universities.

The call to explore the critical development challenges in improving graduate quality is fuelled by employers' concerns, the legacy of varying standards of graduates with the same qualifications from different higher education institutions and growing international developments with regard to using the notion of graduate attributes to strengthen the curriculum and the overall student experience.

Judy Favish, director of UCT's Institutional Planning Department and chair of the planning group that organised the two-day symposium, explains that the subject is under-researched in South Africa.

"There are no national instruments for tracking and monitoring graduates or for obtaining feedback on the quality of their learning experiences at universities," says Favish.

And while university mission statements make claims about the quality of graduates they wish to nurture, these are not necessarily meaningful to academics.

"So one of the key purposes of the symposium was to learn from international experience about how research on graduate attributes is conducted and how other universities have used graduate attributes to enrich the formal and co-curriculum. Another aim was shape a research agenda for the region and, possibly later, the broader national system," explains Favish.

International academics invited to give their perspectives were Professor Geoff Scott, pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Western Sydney in Australia; Associate Professor Simon Barrie, director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Sydney in Australia; and Dr Caryn Musil, senior vice-president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in the US.

The symposium was attended by about 100 people from government, business and universities. According to Favish, the symposium was extremely successful.

"Several recommendations for possible future activities were generated, including research on pedagogies that enable the development of intended graduate attributes, collaborative research with the provincial government and business on tracking graduates, and the development of a conceptual paper on graduate attributes."

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