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Enterprise: an approach to enhancing employability

25 Nov 2019 | Stuart Norton In advance of the next #LTHEchat tweetchat on Wednesday 25 November, Stuart Norton, Senior Adviser (Learning and Teaching), Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE, argues that careers outcomes, salaries and employability need to be part of the equation in higher education and a renewed focus is something we should consider.

With an election soon upon us and many sabres being rattled around the cost of higher education, we are reminded of the advent of fees and the cost of investment in a university degree. Couple this with a policy context that includes a direct focus upon graduate-level outcomes, love it or loathe it, employability has come to the fore of many minds, strategies and TEF narratives! Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting higher education is or should solely be about career outcomes, salaries or employability - but I do argue that these need to be part of the equation and a renewed focus is something we should consider:

The trouble with employability is that it is not a tangible concept. Definitions are often ambiguous, albeit because they are defining a word that, certainly historically, served different meaning to different groups, for example, the individual, the government, education and organisations.[1]

Challenges around definitions can misalign strategies, policies and procedures, which will unfortunately impact upon staff. Staff who do not necessarily have the space or support to create the gold standard, stakeholder engaged definition of ‘employability’ that can help address the ‘gaps’ (real or perceived) at a programmatic level; which in turn impacts students.

So how can enterprise and entrepreneurship education help improve employability?

I think it’s fair to say that within the sphere of enterprise and entrepreneurship education there is an air of relief that a number of groups jointly worked and agreed the QAA definitions for both Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.

Similarly, in partnership with EEUKIOEEISBESFEDI and the QAA the Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education Framework has been developed with and for the sector over the last 18 months. 

The Framework is designed to align with the QAA guidance, providing an approach to develop learners with the appropriate enterprising mindset and skills that can help them traverse the world of employment and varying entrepreneurship activities.

Enterprise education, through the Framework as a dial to capture the core tenets, is about facilitating learners in moving from ideas to action and, in so doing, supports and aligns with a broader approach to develop learners.

While discursive debate will continue regarding the language of skills, attitude and behaviours (etc.), both of and for employability, the enterprise agenda has managed to sidestep this issue, focussing on the foundations for developing the student throughout their career and looking to create impact and sustainable change at a programme, school/faculty/college and institutional level, ultimately to enhance student success.

For me, over the last five years, there has become more of a blurring rather than distinction between the two: The components of enterprise are fundamental to the components of employability and vice-a-versa. Where there is a differential is with the agreed definitions. This immediately creates something tangible and the work previously undertaken by the QAA has had fantastic reach and influence.[2]

Importantly, we must first stop and recognise the range of enterprising activities that are already undertaken across the plethora of programmes – regardless of whether these are labelled as enterprise and entrepreneurship education, the enhancement of appropriate skills, knowledge, attributes and behaviours necessary for transforming creative ideas into actions are of ever increasing importance: We must be flexible as the world is changing - a world that we expect our graduates to enter and succeed in and I believe that enterprise and entrepreneurship education by influencing and shaping changes to pedagogies, assessment, teaching and learning practices as well as institutional cultures, processes and practices can be a powerful tool to help both students and staff achieve success.

Join the conversation in our next @AdvanceHE_chat and @LTHEchat Tweetchat, delivered in collaboration with the #LTHEchat community from 20:00-21:00 on the last Wednesday of each month (27 November) using hashtag #AdvanceHE_chat .

[1] See Michel Cournoyer in Guilbert, L. et al (2016). Employability: Review and research prospects. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 16(1), 69-89 for a more detailed analysis.

[2] For example, see EntreComp the European Entrepreneurship Competence Framework. 

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