22 SES 13 D, Access to and Innovation in Higher Education
The NSA was founded in 2015, delivering a BSc in Applied Software Engineering, in order to address the national shortage of skilled software engineers in Wales. A new educational approach was needed as many employers were dissatisfied with the pool of graduates trained in this field.
Digital technology is a rapidly growing global industry; the tech sector is growing twice as fast as the non-digital sector and is consequently creating new jobs at twice the rate (Tech Nation, 2018). However, skills shortages in the labour market persists internationally and across many sectors. Analysis across 28 EU members, found four in 10 EU employers had difficulty finding people with the right skills (Cedefop, 2018).
Universities are in a strong position to help address these shortfalls by training students with the appropriate skills to be productive members of the technological workforce. It has been claimed that in the 21st Century, universities should be taking a greater role in ensuring their students develop employability skills (Prokou, 2008, Watts, 2006). As a consequence, employability is increasingly becoming a tool by which universities are being measured (Boden & Nedeva, 2010). Indeed, one of the four key goals of the European Commission’s agenda for HE is to ‘tackle future skills mismatches and promoting excellence in skills development’.
The European Skills and Jobs Survey (ESJS) of around 49,000 employees across 28 EU Member States found that the experience of workplace learning is positively associated with a faster transition to a first job (Cedefop, 2018). Among first job entrants who experienced some learning in a workplace during their studies, only 9% entered unemployment as an interim stage prior to finding their first job. In comparison, 16% of graduates who did not spend any time in a workplace as part of their studies went straight to unemployment registers. The survey also highlights that workplace learning is associated with fewer chances of recent graduates entering jobs that need lower qualifications and skills than their own (Cedefop, 2018).
IFF (2017) found that 65% of employers claim relevant work experience to be critical or highly significant when recruiting, compared with just 46% rating the same for academic qualifications. They also found that employers are increasingly dissatisfied with the skill level of graduates, reaching 15% in 2016.
A review of over 21 studies by Kashefpakdel et al. (2018) demonstrated that employers across a range of sectors highlighted eight key employability skills, such as problem-solving and team working, and four competencies that help young people during the recruitment process and early stages of employment. Furthermore, Cedefop (2018) highlight that these transferable skills as well as the technical/job specific skills will see the largest increase in skill demand between 2015-2025 among EU28 employers. These skills can support graduates to ‘futureproof’ themselves from the risk of job automation in the fourth industrial revolution (McKenzie Global Institute, 2018). Given the importance of employability skills and how universities aim (or not) to develop work-ready graduates, the following objectives of this research were set:
- To investigate the model of the National Software Academy
- To identify and describe success factors and areas of weakness.
- To understand stakeholders’ perceptions and experiences with NSA.
- To understand how NSA is producing employable students. To explore if employers believe the NSA is addressing the skills gap and producing graduates who are work-ready.
- To inform international HE providers about innovative approaches.
Specifically, the paper addresses the research question:
In what way does the National Software Academy offer an innovative model of HE in order to successfully develop employable students?
 European Commission (2017), EU Agenda for Higher Education. https://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/higher-education/about-higher-education-policy_en
The research question suggested a qualitative approach and a case study approach was taken to explore the NSA model in order to address the following research questions and sub-questions: In what way does the National Software Academy offer an innovative model of HE in order to successfully develop employable students? • How is the NSA course designed, developed and delivered? • How do key stakeholders (students, teachers, employers, Welsh Government) perceive the NSA delivery and what do they perceive to be the advantages and disadvantages of NSA? • Are NSA students being prepared for the workplace, and if so how? Case study offers the advantage to triangulate data from different sources, hence increase the validity of the findings. Data was gathered through semi-structured interviews with stakeholders (students, lecturers, senior leadership, employers and Welsh Government representatives), observation of student presentations and document analysis. Interviews typically lasted between 30-45 minutes. Employer interviews were conducted over the phone and other interviews were face-to-face. Students were interviews in groups of twos and threes. While analysing data is an on-going process, data will be systematically analysed once fieldwork is completed in March 2019. Thematic analysis of all the interview data will be done in order to draw out themes and subthemes and identify similarities and differences in stakeholders’ views. The research followed the ethical guidelines of the British Educational Research Association.
While data collection and data analysis are still ongoing, preliminary results suggest that NSA is an innovative HE delivery model which focuses from the outset to develop students’ employability and hence may ease their transition to employment. Summer 2018 saw the first cohort of students graduating therefore destination data is not robust. However, the number of graduates going directly into employment is high and feedback from our interviews with employers has been positive, noting work-readiness compared to graduates from other courses and universities, and highly-developed skills such as team working, adaptability and in particular, communication skills with peers and clients. The results at this stage have highlighted some common themes that indicate that this is an innovative HE delivery model, having a positive effect on student transitioning to the work place and graduate employability. These include: • The structure of the course, specifically the first half of a semester delivering theoretical learning and the second half made up of industry-set projects worked on in teams and with a product outcome fed back to employers. • Untraditional delivery methods for the theoretical learning, including ‘spiral learning’ and a flipped classroom. Teachers are also encouraged to develop their own innovative approaches to learning and keep up with the developments in the industry. • A large base of industrial partners who set projects for students, offer summer placements, feed into course content and visit the Academy for networking and information sessions. The results we hope to be disseminated widely to offer a model of practice that could be emanated by other HE institutions in order to improve the skills graduates leave HE with in order to make them more employable and successful when transitioning to the workplace. It is also anticipated that such a model could aid understanding of addressing local skills gaps.
Boden, R., & Nedeva, M. (2010). Employing discourse: Universities and graduate “employability.” Journal of Education Policy, 25(1), 37–54. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680930903349489 Cedefop (2018). Insights into skill shortages and skill mismatch: learning from Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Cedefop reference series; No 106. http://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2801/645011 European Commission (2017), EU Agenda for Higher Education. https://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/higher-education/about-higher-education-policy_en IFF Research (2017). Department for education: Employer Perspectives Survey 2016. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/622343/EPS_2016_UK_Report.pdf Kashefpakdel, E., Newton, O., & Clark, J. (2018). Joint Dialogue: How are Schools Developing Real Employability Skills? https://www.educationandemployers.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Joint-Dialogue-FINAL-REPORT-2019.pdf McKinsey Global Institute (2018). Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/skill-shift-automation-and-the-future-of-the-workforce Prokou, E. (2008). The Emphasis on Employability and the Changing Role of the University in Europe. Higher Education in Europe, 33(4), 387–394. https://doi.org/10.1080/03797720802522593 Tech Nation (2018). Tech Nation Report 2018. https://technation.io/insights/report-2018/ Watts, A.G. (2006). Career development learning and employability. The Higher Education Academy: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/esect_career_development_learning_and_employability.pdf
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