When defining student learning outcomes, emphasis is normally placed on the knowledge and understanding in a specific discipline that a student must acquire. We may also identify appropriate disciplinary or professional skills that our students will be required to demonstrate. In addition, there may be other generic skills that we want our graduates to possess.
In a recent report, The Royal Society called for post secondary education to provide for the transmission of 'a coherent body of knowledge', the development of its 'conceptual understanding and application' - and noted that students would also 'benefit greatly from the development of a range of personal skills'.
A 1999 report on public expectations of postsecondary education from the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, identifies relevance and responsiveness as a theme in postsecondary education. They note that: 'Postsecondary education gives the learner the opportunity to acquire relevant and diverse knowledge, competencies, and skills for a complex social environment and labour market. It promotes the productive connection of learning, work and civil society'.
Generic skills have been characterised in several ways:
- they may be known as generic, transferable, employability, or life-skills.
- they are skills/attributes such as problem solving, communication, technology usage and working in teams.
- they may be be promoted as contributing to 'life long learning'.
- they may be advocated by employers and government organizations.
- they may be transfered into contexts different from the ones in which they were learned as when:
The Dearing Report in its Recommendations 18 and 21 says:
- a student works in a different discipline.
- students leave post secondary education to become citizens and part of the work force.
18. We recommend that all institutions should over the medium term, identify opportunities to increase the extent to which programmes help students to become familiar with work, and help them to reflect on such experience.
21. We recommend that institutions of higher education begin immediately to develop, for each program they offer, a "programme specification" which identifies potential stopping-off points and gives the intended outcomes of the programme in terms of:
- the knowledge and understanding that a student will be expected to have upon completion:
- key skills: communication, numeracy, the use of information technology and learning how to learn:
- cognitive skills, such as an understanding of methodologies or ability in critical analysis:
- subject specific skills, such as laboratory skills.
In the Final Report of the West Review, it was noted that:
A vision for higher education for the twenty-first century must clearly articulate the role of higher education in a learning society, and the importance of higher education's contribution to lifelong learning. A key requirement is to equip our graduates to play a productive role in an outwardly oriented, knowledge-based economy.
The ability to engage in lifelong learning is a graduate attribute that must be developed within university programs.
A case can also be made that for responsible citizenship, including corporate citizenship, all graduates should have an awareness of, and sensitivity toward, their local and global environment. UNSW's Institute for Environmental Studies has developed a discussion paper 'UNSW's Environment Policy - Options for Educational Responses: The Need for Education for Environmental Responsibility' which addresses some of those issues.
UNSW is a signatory of the Talloires Declaration which encourages engagement in education, research, policy formation, and information exchange on population, environment, and development, to move toward global sustainability.