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June 22, 2011 / helenfli

2020 – The Ideal Graduate

2020 – The Ideal Graduate

Library, Teaching and Learning (LTL) recently launched a document that describes a teaching and learning scenario at Lincoln in 2020.  It got me thinking and the following is a personal response to the scenario.  It does not represent any sort of official FLI response.

I hope to stimulate debate and discussion around the issue I have outlined below and expect to see many comments posted in response to the following. 

While the LTL Scenario document paints a delightful picture of the environment in which teaching and learning will occur, it struck me as somewhat cart-before-horse.  I know, from personal experience – Dad had harness ponies – there were occasions…  moving right along…, that that approach can be counter-productive.  The Scenario doc describes the factory; we should, I believe, be thinking hard about the product. 

I’ve done a bit of reading around what the ‘product’ (Lincoln graduate) might ‘look’ like in 2020.  It appears that they might need to be quite different beasties from the current version.

There is a growing recognition amongst education institutions, at both secondary and tertiary levels, that the attributes required of graduates in 10 years time will be considerably different from the present.   A number of renowned educational institutions have recognised that they need to address the issue of ‘employability’.  Studies have been done in order to better define what that means in 2020.  Birmingham has produced a resource kit to enable HEIs to equip students with the skills emerging as those required for the 2020 graduate (interesting that they did this in 2006!).  Albright College is currently developing its 2020 strategy.  Bristol has worked on a definition of employability and produced resources for students accordingly (again -2006!).  Other organisations have instituted ‘Ideal Graduate Project’ teams. 

HEIs have long been aware that their ability to attract students lies in the employability of their graduates.  2020 is not too far off!  Strategic approaches need to be addressed now so that the necessary changes filter throughout institutions and change management practices embedded to ensure that the changes actually occur! 

We might have a bit of catching up to do here!

Forecasts are appearing that predict more than half the jobs will require the graduate attributes listed below and employers will be demanding an increasingly higher level of skills.  The focus is moving from the need for knowledge in a particular area to a much wider range of thinking/application skills, referred to as ‘transferable skills’, ‘graduate-skills’ or ‘ holistic skills’.  The subject knowledge students need isn’t in today’s textbooks – it’s happening now.  HEIs are concerned with the need to provide well over and above ‘mere subject knowledge’. 

A variety of studies have been done in an effort to more clearly define the essential transferable skills.  Those skills listed below appear in pretty much the same order in such studies.   Reading should probably be categorised under Masteries, but it was singled out and emphasised on occasion.

I think we should take careful note of these; are they explicitly taught, are they assessed and are they actively encourage throughout the curriculum?  I think we can take it as read that these skills are essential.  Our students will be competing in a global employment market in 2020.  I believe the Teaching and Learning strategy needs to be developed with a focus firmly on transferable skills, with the redevelopment of the teaching side of the equation ensuring that these skills are assertively taught and actively assessed. 




To meet the needs of employers in the 2020 job market, the ideal graduate will have the following attributes:

Thinking skills Critical thinking


Critical reflection


Ability to synthesis and innovate

Masteries IT



Solid grasp of scientific fundamentals

Higher level of academic rigor

Reading skills Speed reading

Analytical thinking

Able to digest and comprehend complex idea and concepts

Communication skills Articulate – oral and written

Able to work in teams

Able to learn in teams

Build relationships

Build networks

Socially confident

Global Knowledge Understanding of a diversity of cultures

Multilinguistic a distinct advantage

Comprehension of global aspects of business

Learning skills Knowledge of self as  a learner

Monitor own situation in relation to learning requirements

Recognise and address gaps in knowledge and skills

Personal skills Strong ethics

Good work habits

Personal responsibility for time management and prioritisation

Positive attitude

Area of specialisation In-depth knowledge of own area

Practical application of knowledge

Able to identify changes and trends

Identify impact and significance of changes and trends

Able to respond quickly

How and where to acquire needed knowledge quickly and efficiently





Leave a Comment
  1. Cameron Campbell / Jun 22 2011 3:16 pm

    First off, thanks for doing this Helen. I think that this, coupled with the scenario, is a really good kick off point.

    What I like especially is that you are using idea graduate in the stead of Learning Outcomes. IE: Learn outcomes first, then assessment, then figuring out to teach the content.

    I think that it needs to be very clear that these sorts of skills that you have listed are not things that are to be taught in a explicit manner, but rather are skills that are taught implicitly via the method of instruction. Clearly it has to be explicit at the curriculum level, as well as at the graduate profile/ideal graduate level, but we aren’t talking about having something called “Critical Thinking 101”. Rather, we’re talking about assessment and instructional techniques that scaffold and model this sort of behavior through out the student’s time here at Lincoln.

    I’ll write some more about this post later, but I just wanted to get in early and have a wee say about it.

  2. mauricefli / Jun 23 2011 10:51 am

    Thanks for these thoughts Helen, and the stimulus they provide :-)

    Your focus is the key driver – we need to look at what we want (graduate), then how to get there ( what LU will look like to achieve that graduate).

    Some initial ideas, not in any order of priority:

    The process of change is not new but accelerating, my own career path since the 1960’s is scarcely less checkered than the one predicted for our future graduates. Most workers in the world have shifted homes/cities/countries at least once in the last decade to stay employed. At any given point 20% of “NZ” work force is off-shore. At a rough guess, about half of our work force was not born in NZ. So a key attribute to our graduate needs to be adaptablity and an understanding of how to transfer their skills and where they are located. The work I’m doing today hardly existed when I did my doctorate a decade ago. The skills I acquired in getting my doctorate are highly relevant – willingness to question, willingness to be wrong/make mistakes/take risks, wilingness to learn new skills and accept a level of cultural disorientation, willingness to give up what I currently have to take on new skills and roles. A raft of self-organisation/self-discipline skills.

    So that raises the question of learning as a life long process. Those who stop learning are dead. At least in the employment market. Our graduate needs to be linked into LU for the rest of her/his career particularly of her discipline and cohort. You come to LU for a life sentence :-)

    Asking questions – part of critical literacy perhaps – is key to research. Our graduate needs to become a life long member of the LU research community in all its breadth, not just blues skies stuff. I believe this also addresses the so called, but illusory, dichotomy that teaching and research are different animals.

    Diversity is an endangered but essential quality our grad needs. To that end being able to ‘speak’ one discipline is not enough to understand how questions can always be differently constructed. Wine growers who can speak accounting beat those who can’t every time.

    Our graduate needs to well grounded in the current milieu but able to move with changes in it. So yes, Skilled in IT but that will change. IT is still in its infancy as was transport a century ago. Today our grads need to be able to build a webpage for themselves, but less so each day. Increasingly webpages are supermarket products that most people need know nothing about in detail. No more than we need to know how our car ignition computer works. I’m confident the current focus on IT / dependency on IT skills will continue to be comodified and less relevant to critical career paths. How to use is for social and individual benefit will continue to demand learning and relearning. Google is already as passe as the city library, how to get farmers in Uruguay and Kazakustan linked into our LU grad’s life is open.

    So discipline skills are useful in their own right and in that they build academic skill as a researcher/questioner. They are also a vehicle for building self-confidence (My knowledge/skiils are needed =I’m a valued person in the community) and a channel to cope with change (the skils I have to day will not be valued tomorrow). They also link me to a community of practice (my skills are highly dependent on those of others).

    In concrete terms how does this look for our ideal grad?
    – Questioner = our programmes must encourage research from day one, rejection of the current target communities values as ‘given/authoritarian’
    – Risk taker = our courses must encourage ‘failure’ (learning is reviewed failure)
    – Community member = our courses must bring target communities (discipline & industry) into them from day one.
    – Valued and revalued worker = skilled for today’s world and linked into LU so that she can be up-skilled next year and so on.
    – ‘Multicultural’ = able to ‘speak’ at least two cultures – and preferably two languages
    – Adapter = specialist-turned-generalist

    One factor that Ian MacDonald raises that we need to account for is that half of our grads will be at the diploma level. So we need to recognise that they do not belong to the high-valued capital cutlure group that universities ‘normally’ produce. Not that that makes them less intelligent or socially necessary. Just less of what traditional academia perceives as part of its reproduction chain. So thinking outside the square about our ideal grad offers opportunity to develop niche qualities, as Ian Domigan’s recent and continuing clean up of national engineering awards shows. Can we produce valuers and managment accountants to match Ian’s standards?

    That brings me to the discussion s few of us had at Mrs O’s yesterday about what dominant culture views as valuable in academia and the need for us to challenge that, but that is grist for another post.

    – Maurice

  3. helenfli / Jun 27 2011 4:33 pm

    Thanks for you comment, Cameron. You’re right – I never thought about the Critical Thinking 101 interpration of things! It should be exaclty as you said – the sorts of skills/masteries etc listed in the “Ideal Graduate’ would be embedded in every course and every level, throughout every program.

    Here’s a comment Ian made the other day – it captures the necessary structure perfectly.

    “we need a vision for teaching, under this vision sits a grad profile such as this, under which sit the grad profiles for each programme, under which sit learning objectives for each course, under which sit teaching/learning activities”

    Found this report this morning (one of many!) – it fits in nicely with the above!
    and adds a couple of interesting items as well.

  4. helenfli / Jul 5 2011 1:36 pm

    Just found this! Article abut the quality of the 200 respsonses an antiques dealer received in reply to his ad for a retail assistant.

    Note that spelling is right up there!

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