I have been talking in earlier blogs about the gathering momentum of our employability strategy with increasing enrolment at the Enterprise Gym and the rapid growth of an internship programme led by Careers which last year saw 600 students gaining employment experience. In support of this I have now put my ‘title’ behind a new prize in recognition of student entrepreneurs. The first Principal’s Prize for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship was duly awarded last month to Mhairi Towler who has established a company that uses computer graphics to communicate science more effectively (see June issue of eContact).
A key argument for investment in universities comes from the evidence that graduates don’t just fill available jobs. They are an engine for economic growth because, by and large, they also create many new jobs.
But is it a step too far to place the 3Es at the heart of the curriculum? Many of our graduates are already enterprising and entrepreneurial and I see no reason why we shouldn’t enhance their skills in this regard. This does not mean creating new modules in entrepreneurship, but more explicitly making the connection between graduate skills, whatever the discipline, and the world of work including the creation of jobs and businesses.
The current draft of our strategy which will guide the development of the University over the next five years states that ‘we need to ensure employability and enterprise are threaded into the fabric of academic course work, and that it is taken seriously by all student groups including those which have been less engaged in the past’. The strategy was debated and endorsed at a recent meeting of the University Senate . However a view was expressed arguing that ‘universities should allow the whole responsibility for the curriculum to lie with the academic staff’ and that by specifying requirements the curriculum must fulfil, the strategy statements supporting the 3Es undermined academic freedom.
I believe academic freedom to be a fundamental right for all academic staff, regardless of discipline. However, the interests of society have long influenced curriculum content in our universities because a university system that was insensitive to such needs would soon lose support. I have no doubt, for example, that employability is a chief concern of our students and their families.
The curricula of the majority of disciplines supporting the professions are highly externally regulated and accredited. And with good reason; we wouldn’t want surgeons to be ill-acquainted with anatomy, engineers with the principles of mechanics or accountants with balance sheets. In addition, the Quality Assurance Agency sets out principles we must satisfy in our programmes to meet sector-wide academic standards; and publishes Subject Benchmark Statements that set out what a graduate in a particular discipline might reasonably be expected to know, do and understand at the end of their programme of study.
We need to exercise our academic freedom in a responsible way that creates the best possible experience for our graduates. And that includes the 3 Es.