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The Development of Transferable Skills in the Academic Context

The Bologna Declaration [14] produced a paradigm shift in the teaching-learning process of European higher education. This has become more student-centred and has focused on student’s ability to obtain knowledge and acquire new skills. It also advocates the increasing importance of transferable skills in graduates’ employability [36, 37], which ensues from the belief that technical skills are insufficient in the context of the present model of work organization and given the current competition and demands of the labour market. Literature, however, reveals that there is a gap between the skills developed at universities and those which are required in the workplace [38, 39], precisely pointing to the need for new skills, as well as to the complementarity of transferable and technical skills.

Various studies have focused on the British academic context [10, 13, 40-45], where there seems to be a predominant perception that graduates are rather badly prepared for the conditions they will be confronted with in the labour market [8]. For example, the purpose of the development of the initiative “Enterprise in Higher Education” (EHE) in 1987 was to surpass these shortcomings in training. Binks [8] mentions that the two reasons for implementing this initiative were that: (i) students are not often exposed to work situations during the course of their academic careers and (ii) the curriculum is designed in such a way that it does not encourage students to acquire other skills. This initiative led to the introduction of new teaching-learning strategies in various higher education institutions, which aimed to improve students’ ability in the transferable skills required by the labour market [42]. An example of these experiences is that of the University of Nottingham, which implemented a systemic approach to analyse training needs, with a view to the constant improvement of learning, teaching, and assessment [8].

On the basis of a review of literature, Drummond et al. [4] briefly presented three broad approaches that can be implemented by higher education institutions to develop skills within the curriculum:

  • 1. Embedded or integrated development: the development of skills in an integrated manner within the curriculum; this can occur at different levels of the programme (randomly interspersed, core modules, mapped skills with/with no progression, and project-based development);
  • 2. Parallel (stand-alone) development: the development of skills in free-standing modules, which are not integrated into the curriculum; and

3. Work placements or in work-based projects: the student spends a period of time in practice, which is the case of sandwich courses. These consist of a theoretical component and of a practical one, with the integration of time periods spent in a professional context, which allow for experience in the real-life context of work. This model is considered by employers as the best way to develop students’ employment-related skills.

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