Definitions and drivers

Interested in what we mean by student development, employability, and careers, or why using our curricula to support these is important? Read on…

What do we mean by student development, employability, and careers?

‘Student development’, ‘employability’, and ‘careers’ are understood in many different ways and have various definitions in the literature.  The definitions below convey the intent of their use within the Curriculum Toolkit.

  • Student development: ‘the ways that a student grows, progresses, or increases [their] developmental capabilities as a result of enrollment in an institution of higher education’ (Rodgers, 1990)
  • Employability: ‘a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy’ (Yorke, 2006)
  • Careers: ‘career’, ‘careers’, and ‘careers planning’ are all debated terms in the literature and often used interchangeably.  For brevity, ‘careers’ is used in this toolkit to incorporate:
    • career – the interaction of work and other life roles over a person’s lifespan, including how they balance paid and unpaid work, and their involvement in learning and education; 
    • career development – the lifelong process of managing learning, work, leisure, and transitions in order to move towards a personally-determined and evolving future; and
    • career education – programmes and activities of learning to help people to develop the skills necessary to manage their career and life pathway (European Lifelong Learning Guidance Policy Network, 2014).

Student development, employability, and careers cover a wide range and overlap each other.   Through increasing our support for these themes and embedding them into our curricula, we can more effectively prepare all our graduates for their futures.


Why is this important?

We have a vital, collaborative role in preparing students for fulfilling futures and to contribute meaningfully to society and the economy.  Our University values indicate ‘we are a place of transformation and of self-improvement’, and our Strategy to 2030 commits us ‘…to ensure that our graduates go on to achieve success in whatever they do, wherever they go’.

The pace of change in the labour market and the workplace is accelerating (World Economic Forum, 2018).  Graduates are more likely than ever to have multiple jobs spanning different sectors, increasing their need for skills and attributes applicable in a wide range of situations (Kettle, 2013). In equipping students, we not only need to develop subject experts but also develop rounded individuals who have the skills and attributes to thrive in these conditions.

A series of reports (for example NCUB, 2014; Scottish Government, 2010; Yorke, 2006; Cole & Tippy, 2013; Artess, Hooley, & Mellors-Bourne, 2017) highlight the importance of highly-skilled students who are work-ready when graduating; and while subject-specific achievement is important, it is not seen as sufficient by employers. The ideal employee may emerge as the T-shaped individual, offering both breadth and depth of talent (Gardner & Estry, 2017).

As well as being at the heart of the transformational university learning experience we would seek to deliver, these considerations also respond to external drivers, whether that is SFC Outcome Agreements, the TEF or Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education Scotland’s Enhancement-Led Institutional Review process (QAA, 2018).

To deliver on the above, we must capitalise on all parts of the student experience.  However, the curriculum is key to ensuring equity of access and success for all of our graduates.  Embedding and explicitly surfacing student development, employability and careers within our learning and teaching practice will enhance rather than detract from the value students already get from their degrees. 

This requires us to:

  • recognise where our curricula already deliver on these priorities;
  • identify and work on areas where we can enhance our curricula and student experience further; and
  • building on the above, support our students to recognise and benefit from the quality and value of our student experience.