Professor Christine Jarvis is our keynote speaker for Day One of the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference, 3-5 July at Aston University, Birmingham. Christine took up the post of PVC Teaching and Learning at University of Huddersfield in 2015, and in 2010, she was awarded an HEA National Teaching Fellowship for her contribution to teaching and learning.
The idea of the ‘global graduate’ has been around for some time. It is seized upon by universities, employers, careers advisory services and by organisations with an interest in promoting international collaborations, languages and exchange opportunities.
I plan to bring some of these ideas together, but I also want to offer some comments on what I think is missing or under-emphasised in the picture of the’ global graduate’ and explain why I think those absences are dangerous. I then want to ask what the challenges our students will face in the coming decades mean for us as teachers and curriculum designers.
So my two questions for this community are:
- What is a global graduate? (What knowledge, skills, attributes and values do you think graduates need?)
- What skills, knowledge, attributes and values do we need in order to build curricula and teaching and learning strategies that will produce graduates who can make the world a better place?
The term ‘global graduate’ is generally used to describe the kind of individual who will have the skills that employers demand in a global economy. One popular model is that of the T-shaped graduate – someone who has deep subject specialist skills (the vertical stroke on the T) but also the ability to work in interdisciplinary teams, solve problems creatively, work across cultures and understand how their role fits in to the bigger picture (the horizontal bar on the T).
What is less prominent in discussions about the ‘global graduate’, although sometimes implicit and occasionally explicit, is the idea of global citizenship, and more specifically social justice.
This leaves the concept as it stands open to critique because it assumes that the model of global capital we currently have is sustainable and will continue, and it assumes that if we all prepare the kinds of graduates that employers want, they will all get excellent jobs. It leaves us having to ask a critical question: Is Higher Education about more than the preparation of people to serve the needs of global capital?
So, my first concern is that if we consider the analyses offered by academics such as John Smyth and Guy Standing (2016) we might worry that globalisation means that there will always be a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions of employment and that even highly qualified and highly skilled labour cannot escape this. In effect, the more highly skilled and flexible graduates we create, the more interchangeable they become. What if our wonderful T shaped graduates get highly skilled graduate jobs, but they are not secure, well rewarded jobs. Will they all be highly skilled workers in a gig economy?
My second concern is the wider global challenges we are facing, which simply preparing students to be highly employable will not solve. Graduates also have to be prepared to tackle the impact of growing social inequalities on security, stability and population migration, and the impact of global warming on communities, security, and migration, and it feels like putting blinkers on our students to prepare them to be ‘global graduates’ purely in terms of employability.
I will argue that we need a wider definition of the global graduate and the future HE curriculum – something that includes the idea of the T shaped graduate, but also focuses on critical social contextualisation – ensuring that graduates recognise that they are global citizens with social and political responsibilities.
The questions that naturally flow from this are what kind of curriculum will develop this sort of graduate? Is the single subject degree dead? And what kind of super-teacher would we need to design and teach that curriculum? How would they be prepared? Can any one individual do it all?
I think these are important questions for us as a community committed to the very best teaching. We have to talk about what we teach, not just about teaching methods.
Our students are the global citizens of the future, and if we worry that their world might implode in a violent maelstrom of poverty, war and environmental disaster we have to think beyond ONLY serving the interests of employers, business and economies. I am trying not to set this up as a dichotomy – employment or critique – because work matters and business matters. I’m just worried that we might send out the next generation of brilliant flexible problem solving, adaptable, digitally amazing, multi-lingual etc., graduates into the world to watch it burn.
Looking forward to talking with you!
Standing, G. (2016) The corruption of capitalism: why rentiers thrive and work does not pay (London: Biteback).
Smyth, J and Wrigley, T (2013) Living on the Edge. Rethinking poverty, class and schooling. (New York: Peter Lang).
For further information about the Advance HE Teaching and Learning conference please click here.