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CHAPTER 2

Review of Related Literature and Studies

Definition of Graduate attributes

Graduate attributes are intended to be the qualities that prepare graduates to meet the demands of being life‐long learners, and agents for social good, and ready for personal development in conditions of uncertainty and rapid global change (Ramsden et al., 1986; Albrecht and Sack, 2000; Howieson, 2003; Kavanagh and Drennan, 2008).

Graduate attributes used to be a generally accepted definition is the qualities, skills and understanding a university community agrees its students should develop during their time with the institution. These attributes include but go beyond the disciplinary expertise or technical knowledge that has traditionally formed the core of most university courses. They are qualities that also prepare graduates as agents of social good in an unknown future (Bowden et al., 2000; Barrie, 2006, p. 217; Kavanagh and Drennan, 2008, p. 280).  

Graduate attributes are the set of core outcomes that a tertiary education community agrees its graduates will develop during their studies. For students, graduate attributes provide an indication of the university's and society's expectations; the development of graduate attributes should encourage and nurture a love of lifelong learning and community engagement. For academic staff, graduate attributes provide an overarching framework for discipline knowledge and skills that may be linked to particular professional or vocational outcomes. Reference to the attributes provides a holistic way of evaluating and discussing students' work and progress, as well as providing some guidance in curriculum development. For the university, graduate attributes provide an opportunity to reinforce and demonstrate its values and mission, and to market its distinctiveness (Hager and Holland, 2006).

Indeed, they are the desirable capabilities expected of students will need in order to translate and apply their discipline knowledge to new contexts after graduation. The Graduate Attributes can help shape experiences while studying, and to present skills and qualities effectively to employers and enhance student employability in the global employment market. (Ball, A., 2011)

Brian Marshall, Associate Dean Student Experience for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, explains that “graduate attributes have always been there, at least to some extent. They reflect much of what we as academics expect a higher education to be about. They also reflect a changed sense within the academy of what a higher education should be about, drawing on enlarged expectations of higher education, from employers, government, policy makers and from our students themselves.”

In a seminal article, Jones (2010) provided an overview of how the culture of the discipline in which academics teach influences their understanding of graduate (or generic) attributes and concluded that graduate attributes are not trans but highly context‐dependent and shaped by the disciplinary context in which they are taught.

In the article,' How do Graduate Attributes apply to me?' by the University of Edinburgh (2016) developing your Graduate Attributes comes from all parts of your life; from your studies; extra-curricular activities such as a part-time job; or from co-curricular experiences such as joining a society or helping with a research project.

Graduate attributes aligned in Graduates' Employability

Recent shifts in education and labour market policy have resulted in universities being placed under increasing pressure to produce employable graduates. However, contention exists regarding exactly what constitutes employability and which graduate attributes are required to foster employability in tertiary students. The context of a rapidly changing information and knowledge-intensive economy, employability involves far more than possession of the generic skills listed by graduate employers as attractive. Rather, for optima economic and social outcomes, graduates must be able to proactively navigate the world of work and self-manage the career building process (Bridgstock, R.; 2009 March 31; Enhancing Graduate Employability through Career Management Skills).

Indeed, particularly in these changing and competitive times, there continues to be policy, business and educational interest in the general or generic outcomes of undergraduate programs, the relationship between graduate attributes and what has come to termed “employability”. Furthermore, the contemporary focus on the transition to work and role of generic attributes, whether for school leavers or graduates, needs to be conceived more realistically and coherently as part of an ongoing and interactive learning project. The work environment can provide individual and collective opportunities to build on and integrate the kind of learning gained from the classroom, lecture or library. Given certain conditions, workers at any level can continue to develop their knowledge and understanding as well as their repertoire of skills and dispositions. (P. Hager and S. Holland; 2006; Graduate Attributes, Learning and Employability, p.1)

Employability sits within, but is not identical to “graduate attributes”. Bowden et al.'s (2000) commonly cited definition of graduate attributes tends to encompass two main types of attributes: those which relate to an individual's capacity for citizenship and the ability to contribute towards a well‐functioning society (Rychen and Salganik, 2005; Bowden et al., 2000); and those which relate to an individual's capacity to obtain and maintain work (Harvey, 2001; McQuaid and Lindsay, 2005), that is, his or her “employability”. It is the employability agenda which has gained in profile in recent years with “generic skills” being defined as “those transferable skills, essential for employability which are relevant at different levels for most” (Kearns, 2001, p. 6).

According to Smith et al. (2009, p. 18), employability is a multidimensional notion: it can be considered from the subjective perspective of the student or graduate in terms of his or her confidence and preparedness for the world‐of‐work (e.g. abilities, interests, skills, knowledge, self‐concept, health). It is also possible to consider “employability” from “an objective perspective of government and policy‐makers, employers, and universities, all of which take stock of graduate outcomes” (Smith et al., 2009, p. 18). Yorke (2006, p. 8) defined employability as: a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy.

Jackling and De Lange (2009), interviewing 12 Human Resource Managers, found that the overwhelming majority of employers, when recruiting, were guided by evaluations of “generic attributes” (here referred to as graduate attributes) rather than technical skills. The three most valued graduate attributes were “team skills, leadership and verbal communication capabilities.”

Non-Science Courses Graduates Employability

The key non‐technical skills which employers rate as most important, in order of total frequencies of comments are in the broad areas of communication, teamwork, self‐management, initiative, problem solving and planning (Tempone, et al., 2005)

The information and reflections on the generic attribute of “communication skills” as provided by the various respondents suggests a conceptualization of a range of social skills beyond those of correct expression, whether written or oral. It is understood in terms of marketing, client and collegial relationship building as well as efficiency and the nature of the work. Moreover, employers' understanding of it appears to be affected by the specifics of their commercial needs, the needs of a particular clientele or market, or, in relation to communicating with colleagues and team members, the culture and needs of a particular work environment.

Employers suggested that in effective teams teamwork includes good interpersonal skills in order to foster client relationships and trust in accordance with the organisation's ethics, as well as leadership and management. Teams and teamwork were most important in the small firm sector. Small regional firms defined team skills as “being one of the families” but also included in their definition a work ethic or commitment, equivalent to that of family members though not all were family concerns. The conceptualization of team work, its role in an organization, and the skills required, differ substantially among the various sectors of the industry.

Employers had a very broad understanding of self‐management, viewing it as all of the attributes they valued in a mature well‐rounded competent and confident graduate. It included traits of ambition, community and being socially responsible; hard work; dedication; a holistic and flexible approach; an ability to deal with complexity, uncertainty and pressure; intellectual capacity; self‐presentation; a professional presence; independence; and time management. Employers were strongly of the opinion that grades were not all that was required and the best recruits were those who combined study with other life experiences such as previous part‐time employment, or sporting and extra‐curricular activities, especially those entailing leadership responsibilities. It appears that while all employers set great store by the extra‐curricular activities in which prospective employees had engaged, they used it as a measure for somewhat different things and the meaning of self‐management, like other generic attributes, can be seen to be shaped by the needs of particular workplaces.

The employers surveyed in this study required communication and presentation, teamwork and self‐management attributes in the graduates they were employing. Most firms had training programs in place to progress the development of required attributes at different levels.

Science Courses Graduates Employability

Venetia Saunders and Katherine Zuzel (2009) conducted a study entitled “Evaluating Employability Skills: Employer and Student Perceptions” wherein a strong correlation was found between employer and science-student/graduate perceptions of the relative priorities amongst employability skills. Skills such as enthusiasm, dependability and team-working scored higher than subject knowledge skills, whilst commercial awareness, negotiation and networking were given least priorities. The study has identified skills and qualities needed by the graduates to enhance one's employability (Saunders and Zuzel, 2009). Interestingly, enthusiasm and willingness to learn, which the employers valued most, were highlighted (Clarke, 1997). The study confirms the view that employers, even in highly technical scientific jobs, generally value certain generic skills and traits above specialist occupational skills and knowledge. This is not to ignore the importance of subject knowledge, but to emphasize added value of effective personal qualities and core skills (Archer and Davison, 2008; Herrmann, 2009). Commercial awareness, the core skill valued least in the survey of the study, was also one that students and graduates felt most deficient in (Brown et al., 2005; Gilworth and Thambar, 2006). Students and graduates, and their employers appear to be largely in accord with respect to the priorities amongst employability skills, all ranking certain personal qualities above subject-specific kills (Saunders and Zuzel, 2009).

Graduate attributes in relation to Students' level of performance

The “study of expertise seeks to understand and account for what distinguishes outstanding individuals in a domain from less outstanding individuals, as well as from the population in general” (Ericsson and Smith, 1991, p. 2). According to Swanson and Holton (2009, p. 252), expertise is a core concept of human resource development (HRD). Much of the work in HRD is concerned with “unleashing expertise for the purpose of improving performance”.

Researchers have proposed theories on the nature of experience which leads to expertise. Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986) proposed a model for the development of expertise that described the journey from novice to expert. This model postulates that expertise is a function of time and experience. A new professional enters the field as a novice and with some experience becomes an advanced beginner, competent, proficient and ultimately an expert.

The Dreyfus model reflects cognitive psychology research that established that expertise was a learned rather than innate (Bryan and Harter, 1897; De Groot, 1965; Simon and Chase, 1973; Chase and Ericsson, 1981; Schön, 1987; Gobet, 1998). Then, this model suggests that acquiring expertise is sequential – an individual cannot move directly from novice to expert. In addition, the model posits that time and experience do not guarantee the development of expertise – a performer must be talented to achieve expert performance. This model hints at the concept of the experienced non-expert – someone with years of experience who fails to achieve expertise.

Ericsson et al. (1993) proposed the concept of deliberate practice where practice is carefully calibrated to meet the needs of individuals at that specific point in their development. Students are not engaged in repetitive practice of already mastered skills; instead, they participate in activities that stretch their capabilities. The theories of deliberate practice and progressive problem solving suggest that it is not only the number of hours of practice but also the quality of this practice that supports the development of expertise.

Importance of Graduate attributes

The growing emphasis on graduate attributes in higher education has several sources (Hager and Holland, 2006). One is the increasing demand for business and employer organizations for the graduates to acquire generic skills or generic attributes for which this reflects recent economic and technological developments. As well as, the adoption of generic attributes by educational providers for the purpose of creating programs and improving curriculum to produce graduates who are both employable and capable of contributing to civil society. So the increasing importance of graduate attributes in higher education reflects requirements needed by the organizations or institutions in our society.

The ability to adapt quickly to change or being flexible in terms of the nature of work is an important factor influencing success in the workplace. Against this background there is a growing interest in life-long learning. This is well illustrated by the ‘Profile of the Lifelong Learner' proposed by Candy, Crebert & O'Leary (1994) which consists of five aspects: 1) an inquiring   about being aware of how knowledge is created in at least one field of the study and an understanding of the technological and substantive limitations of that field, 3) information literacy which includes the ability to locate, evaluate, manage and use information in a range of context, 4) a sense of personal agency which pertain to having a positive concept of oneself as capable and autonomous and 5) a repertoire of learning skill which is the knowledge of one's own strengths, weaknesses and preferred learning style and an understanding of the differences between surface and deep level learning. In relation with these, the nature and range of generic attributes of staff, including being flexible and acquiring the five aspects of lifelong learning, is an important part of the success of an entity.

In the article, ‘How do Graduate Attributes apply to me?' by the University of Edinburgh (2016) through graduate attributes it helps a person recognize the skills and mind sets already have and how these can be used, now and in the future; think about one's experiences (within and outside degree) in a different way and recognise the value and learning one's are gaining from them; identify what skills and abilities needed and how these can be developed; seek out opportunities to develop unique set of attributes; and reflect on current strengths. In a gist, it help develop and shape whole student experience - developing a strong set of Graduate Attributes helps in being more successful in one's career, in studies and research, and in contribution of one to society.

Graduate Attributes will equip the students to achieve their full potential in employment, life and community. This attributes are highly-valued by employers for their role in enhancing the capacity of employees to respond, learn and adapt when workplace demands change. These skills are developed throughout a person's life and in multiple settings, including work and life settings and educational contexts.

Graduates who are responsible, ethical and engaged citizens will: recognise, respect and appreciate diverse social and cultural perspectives; behave ethically; make meaningful contributions to local, national and/or international communities; and accept social and civic responsibilities. Graduates who are critical, creative, and enquiring will: know how to learn; recognise opportunities for new learning; be prepared to confront new challenges; apply disciplinary knowledge to evaluate problems and develop solutions; be capable of finding and analysing information; and think creatively. Graduates who are capable, flexible, and work ready will: communicate effectively; work independently and collaboratively; have appropriate discipline knowledge; and apply knowledge and skills in a range of contexts. (Dowling et al.,2006)

Review synthesis

The research study is concerned with the perception of graduating students in the effectiveness of graduate attributes of science and non- science courses. This chapter is concentrated on the definition of graduate attributes, the birth of it as well as its importance. It also give insights on employers desired needs to some science and non-science courses graduates and how the level of performance affects the graduates and their acquired attributes.

 The definition of graduate attributes give a clear picture of aspire attributes by the students and university as well as the expertise which prepared graduates to meet the demands of being life‐long learners and competitive graduates. For the students, graduate attributes are the qualities and skills expected by the university and the society for them to acquire. For the university staffs, graduate attributes referred to as the discipline knowledge and skills linked to the professional or vocational outcomes. For the university, graduate attributes served as an opportunity to demonstrate the vision and missions as well as to market the distinctiveness of the university.

 The birth of graduate attributes is from the alignment of university and other institution to the desired needs of different employers in the industry. The demand qualities of companies and organizations to their employees resulted in the supply of educational institution to produce employable and productive graduates which resulted in modifying vision and mission of the organization and the inception of graduate attributes.

Non-Science and Science courses are in different field thus produces graduates with different skills. Moreover, employers seek graduates who have the appropriate talent for a certain job. Employers have different standards depending on the field they are in. In Non-Science like accounting, employers usually seek outstanding in communication, teamwork, self‐management, initiative, problem solving and planning whereas in Science, employers value enthusiasm and willingness to learn followed by dependability and team-working.

Knowing the level of performance of graduates will help to know how the students engaged in an organization stayed for many years. It will also reflect the expertise of students in acquiring the attributes desired by the university. With the stages of skills acquisition, it will show the training provided and the drastic change that happened to the students.

Graduate attributes serve as an important aspect of the university for which it recognize skills and mind-sets the student already have and how these skills would be used in the future. Graduate attributes help students to become flexible in the changes happening in the global world. Most importantly, graduate attributes help students to enhance their full potential in employment, in life and even in the community.

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