Building higher education curricula fit for the future

In May 2018 the Centre for Innovation in Higher Education was commissioned by Advance HE to explore higher education responses to the UK Government’s 2017 Industrial Strategy in the ‘Building higher education curricula fit for the future’ project. The report was published in October 2018 and is available from Advance HE's website.

“This fourth industrial revolution is of a scale, speed and complexity that is unprecedented …. It will disrupt nearly every sector in every country, creating new opportunities and challenges for people, places and businesses to which we must respond.” (Her Majesty’s Government, Industrial Strategy, p.32)

The research informs the sector’s understanding about how the vision detailed in the UK’s Industrial Strategy is articulated through approaches to learning and teaching in HE and contributes to policy debates in this area around academic, technical and vocational qualifications.

Looking across discipline areas in order to provide deeper and richer insights into how employability and skills development are understood and developed within HE, it focuses on the ways in which corresponding and connected terms function in this arena – such as competency, aptitude, proficiency and attribute – in order to scrutinise the language of employability. Through its analysis of the employability topography across discipline areas, it also adds to the debates about a “national employability skills framework” and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Specially, the research findings indicate that:

  • Parts of the HE sector are keenly aware of the goals and opportunities set out in the Industrial Strategy and of the broad national and regional trends affecting employment and industry.
  • Many UK HEIs are actively responding to the themes of the Industrial Strategy both at strategic level, through partnership cultivation, apprenticeship standards and close collaboration with industry and business stakeholders, and at the curriculum level with practical and innovative work-integrated teaching approaches.
  • HEIs are creating innovative learning environments where theoretical and practical knowledge are developed through experiential learning with a high degree of reflection, crucial for the development of soft skills.
  • The changing skills landscape of the UK’s workforce needs a greater emphasis on the ongoing development of life-long learning and more work on the national discourse around when and for whom education in an HE setting is offered.
  • To achieve multi-faceted educational outcomes existing relationships between HEIs and their stakeholders need to be further expanded and deepened to develop comprehensive curricula that nurture a complex range of skills, abilities and personal attributes across discipline areas.
  • There needs to be continued work on the language and meaning of employability and the interconnected character of skills, knowledge, personal attributes and values, so that there isa stronger sense of shared means of indicating both their nature and their development.

The findings strongly suggest that higher education teaching plays a unique part in helping learners to develop the transferable skills, capabilities and attitudes that will be needed to deliver the aims of the Industrial Strategy.

The experiential, participatory and reflective nature of active, work-based learning is not only a transformative experience for students in HE, but also has the potential to transform society through more flexible and cognitively agile workers and citizens who embrace “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds” (Her Majesty’s Government, Industrial Strategy, p. 32).

Dr Ben Brabon, Academic Lead for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Advance HE said: “The project report reveals that HEIs have a high level of awareness of the challenges set out in the Industrial Strategy and are responding through the ongoing development of their approach to learning and teaching so that it is more active, participatory and work-integrated. At the same time, the report raises significant questions about how best to develop life-long learning to meet the regional and national skills and employment requirements in the future, as well as highlighting that it is essential for Higher Education to develop a complex range of skills, abilities and personal attributes across discipline areas.”

Read the full report
Read further research project background details
Building Higher Education curricula fit for the future: how HE institutions are responding to the Industrial Strategy by Dr Emma Coonan, presented at HEfor4IR, 21 Nov 2019.