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Learning and Teaching Handbook

7.4: Employability and Enterprise Skills Strategy


1. Durham University’s commitment to improving the employability of all our students is explicit in its Strategy 2010-2020, a key aim of which is “To provide our students with outstanding and distinctive opportunities for personal development, ensuring future success and employability.” Consequently employability, skills and enterprise are key elements of the University’s Education and Postgraduate strategies, and this Employability and Enterprise Skills Strategy defines Durham’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity with regard to Employability and Enterprise and supports the Durham University strategy in articulating Durham’s place on the world stage.

2. The University’s ambition is to ensure that all our graduates stand the very best chance of securing the type of employment they want, whether it be self-employment, or within not-for-profit, private or public sectors. To meet this ambition, by 2020 all of the University’s departments will be ranked in the top 5 or top 5% for their discipline in the Times Good University Guide for obtaining graduate level jobs or progressing to further study. At present, academic departments are measured against the interim target of top 10 or top 10% for graduate prospects. Progress regarding the interim and final target will need to be reviewed in 2015. To achieve this goal the University ensures that its students are comprehensively engaged in extending, recording and promoting their skills and abilities in ways that are relevant to the needs of a wide variety of employers both in the UK and overseas.

3. The Education Strategy expresses, and this strategy builds upon, the importance of student engagement in research activity towards their development of investigative skills and exposure to practice-based, professional or scholarly forms of enquiry. The development of such skills supports students’ induction into, and for postgraduate study their advancement in, an academic community of practice.

4. The University colleges present a rich interplay of scholarly community and extra-curricular opportunities which combine to enhance students’ employability. College common rooms, working in close partnership with Experience Durham and the Durham Student Union, offer a wide variety of clubs and societies allowing students of all levels of ability to engage. In addition, through these partnerships they also offer many extra-curricular activities such as outreach projects, volunteering and work experience. Colleges are increasingly strengthening their scholarly opportunities to enrich their students’ academic experiences by hosting interdisciplinary research and cultural presentations, discussions and seminars.

5. This strategy sees all student employability as far more than the acquisition of a particular job. It aims to empower our students to function in whatever career they choose to pursue. Consequently this strategy is based upon the Higher Education Academy’s broad definition of 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.’  

6. This strategy also recognises the importance of enterprise skills development amongst the student body as a core element of what the University aims to achieve. Enterprise is defined by the QAA as the application of creative ideas and innovations to practical situations. This is a generic concept that can be applied across all areas of education. Enterprise education is concerned with supporting students to develop a skill set that enables them to look beyond their disciplinary expertise, identify connections across commerce and culture, and effectively pursue unique and innovative opportunities at university and beyond. Such skills are applicable to any employment situation or occupational sector including research-oriented careers, and those necessary to build a successful business. This Strategy identifies a way forward for Durham’s enterprise education which is an important element in providing students with direct experience of the global world of industry, business and commerce, its financial and cultural context and its approach to decision making.

Key Aims

7. In order to meet its targets this strategy identifies three key aims. To deliver its employability and enterprise aspirations the University will:

a) Continue to enhance employability and enterprise skills within academic  curricula and the wider student experience, in line with the University’s Principles for the Development of the Taught Curriculum and Principles for Student Support;

b) Increase opportunities for students to undertake skills development by improving access to work-based experience opportunities and co-curricular activities;

c) Recognise and respond effectively to the diversity of Durham’s student population including improving opportunities for graduate employment overseas.

Curriculum and Student Experience 

8. The University recognises that opportunities for students to engage in high-quality education and research experiences are fundamental to their development of employability and enterprise skills.  Durham has curricula that are research-led; by continuing to promote research-based investigative-based approaches we will furnish our students with the skills and abilities needed for future employment and further study. To ensure students remain engaged with their skills development distinctions must be made between the skills opportunities at each level of study including those for undergraduate, postgraduate taught (PGT) and postgraduate research (PGR) programmes.  For taught students the University will define a set of graduate attributes that will shape students’ skills development to equip them for the future. This framework will, where appropriate, complement those skills required for students registered on programmes aligned to professional and external validation such as for teacher training and medicine. Similarly, the Vitae Researcher Development Framework defines the skill set for research students, so the University will work within this framework to offer personal, professional and career development opportunities appropriate to students’ discipline and level of study.

9. Experience Durham, the Colleges, Departments and Faculties, Durham Student’s Union (DSU) and specialist student support services play an increasingly important role in contributing towards students’ personal and skills development. These offices of the University will work in partnership to ensure that, alongside students’ academic programmes, we offer a cohesive and integrated experience thereby developing students who are in high demand by employers.

10. To meet the needs and expectations of our students we will:

a) Agree and consistently use a common terminology of Graduate Qualities that will assist staff to communicate, and students to understand, skills development opportunities for taught students.

b) Increase opportunities for degree programmes to embed employability and enterprise skills, including encouraging departments/schools to strengthen their research- and investigative- based initiatives.

c) Increase opportunities for students to draw upon employer and professional body practices through closer collaboration and knowledge-transfer opportunities with government, charities, professional bodies and subject associations.

d) Support the development and implementation of rigorous academic modules in entrepreneurship.

e) Embed new forms of entrepreneurial behaviour within mainstream academic programmes.

f) Enhance partnerships across the institution to deliver an employability and enterprise programme that creates an engaging, integrated and comprehensive student skills development experience.

g) Support academic departments in quality review processes such as programme approvals, annual and periodic reviews, encouraging deeper reflection on employability and enterprise through the review of curriculum design and provision.

Work experience and co-curricular activities

11. The University considers work-based learning to be instrumental to the successful development of employability and enterprise skills. To strengthen our commitment to work experience we will develop a University-wide scheme to offer a broad range of placement opportunities. CEEC’s approach will encompass a broad range of placements including those of varying lengths, paid or unpaid. CEEC will ensure that students can select from a range of organisations, from large international organisations to small- and medium-sized enterprises; across all sectors, and that these opportunities will include enterprise activity, research placements and fieldwork.  In addition, we will ensure that entrepreneurial behaviour developed within the curriculum and through entrepreneurial activity and competitions plays an increasingly prominent role in enhancing student skills development.  

12. Durham University students acquire and develop many skills through extra-curricular activities as well as other opportunities provided by voluntary and work experience. Our Colleges provide a wide range of opportunities for engagement through college-based student organizations, all set within the wider framework of societies associated with Durham Students’ Union and Experience Durham. We need to continue to help students recognise, understand and articulate the skills they develop though their participation in such organisations.

13. To meet the needs and expectations of our students we will:

a) Enhance ways in which staff and Durham alumni support the delivery of skill-development activities in order to help our students identify work experience and graduate employment opportunities;

b) Review our existing approaches to placements and internships by considering opportunities to increase the number of departments/schools involved in offering a greater variety of placements including those of varying length that are either within or outside a curriculum or academic year.

c) Create opportunities for students to gain work experience within organisations that have a strong entrepreneurial outlook including opportunities within small to medium-sized enterprises.

d) Continue to develop support tools and structures to help students recognise, understand and articulate the skills they develop though their participation in work experience and co-curricular activities.

Recognising diversity

14. The University recognises the necessity for diversity of opportunity in skills development to ensure that all students can realise their full potential. Durham University understands the value of recognising skill acquisition but notes that not all students will have the same needs and desires of participation. By providing a variety of engagement opportunities, including self-guided personal development planning coupled with more formal initiatives including a certificate programme called the Durham Award which requires students to align the skills they have developed against a set of key competencies, we will create a programme that recognises this diversity in expectation. 

15. The University will design support structures to enhance the careers aspirations of a diverse population including students from undergraduate, taught masters and research programmes; different backgrounds, countries and cultures; and those who have a range of disabilities. We are committed to ensuring our students become global citizens and thus will provide a multifaceted approach to recognise diversity in skills development and employability.

16. The University will ensure that students are able to articulate their skills in a way that recognises a skills set that encompasses personal, professional and intellectual development appropriate to their level of study. This will be achieved in a variety of ways including through an enhanced Career Mentoring Scheme. This scheme links external mentors with students to help them increase their commercial awareness, build confidence and networking skills and gain an insight into recruitment and selection methods.

17. To meet the needs and expectations of our students we will:

a) Increase the help provided to those who are not meeting their academic aspirations, through enhanced study skills and career support.

b) Provide staff-development opportunities to enhance our understanding of the international labour market to increase opportunities to study and work abroad by using existing, and developing new contacts through overseas partners, alumni and staff research networks.

c) Provide further opportunities for distinct cohorts of students and researchers to develop specialist knowledge and skills commensurate with their discipline and level of study.

d) Increase the provision of Enterprise activity with a focus on employability and preparation for self-employment, including the employment of others.

e) Promote home and international students’ engagement with the Language Centre(s) in order to further develop students’ language skills as a mechanism to enhance their employability.

f) Extend the pilot Careers Mentoring Scheme to all PGT students.

g) Continually evaluate the provision of the Careers and Employability Service to ensure that it fulfils the needs of its diverse undergraduate, PGT and PGR student community.

Implementation and outcomes

18. Implementation of the objectives set out in this Strategy will be taken forward through a series of annual action plans approved and monitored by Student Experience Sub-Committee, which will also be responsible for monitoring performance against the Strategy as a whole.

Note: implementation tasks and timescales will be added once the strategy has been considered though University Committee structure.

1.The Higher Education Academy’s Enhancing Student Employability Co-ordination Team (ESECT) definition in Knight,P.T. and Yorke,M (2004) Learning, Curriculum and Employability in Higher Education. London: Routledge Falmer.