Consultation and Findings
The broad engagement strategies conducted throughout the project including the institutional workshops and interviews with academic leaders yielded a number of important insights, and demonstrated a disconnect across the sector as how to strengthen the evidence-base of oral and written communication skills of students. Similarly, interviews and consultations with employer groups, accreditation bodies and government, confirmed the need for better evidence of how graduates are equipped with the necessary oral and written communication skills.
What was clear from all stakeholder groups, is that while communication skills are key to succeeding in higher education and in the workplace, what is meant by graduate level oral and written skills is often obscure and contingent on the context of the stakeholder.
For universities and higher education institutions, we found broad acknowledgment that more work needs to be done to evidence that graduates have the requisite levels of oral and written communication skills. Similarly, government, employer groups, accreditation and professional bodies flagged the need for evidence that is visible, authentic and relevant to the development and achievement of graduate communication skills.
The project has identified the following key findings:
English language communication skills are very important for graduate employability.
Employers mainly seek graduates who can communicate effectively in oral and written English, and assume that they have the required disciplinary and technical skills. Employers also consider it core business of universities to produce graduates who have appropriate levels of communication skills for the workplace.
Universities in recent years have developed a number of initiatives to develop graduates’ communication skills.
There are a number of varied practices in place across many universities to provide support for students in developing their communication skills. However, the project found that a majority of those interviewed in universities were unable to articulate how they knew students graduate with at least minimum levels of communication skills. One of the main reasons for this appears to be that while there are pockets of activity for developing communication skills, these are not assessed within disciplinary teaching and learning contexts, and sit outside quality assurance processes within degree programs.
Assessment of communication skills within degree programs can assure graduates’ communication skills.
Universities know that their graduates have achieved threshold standards of communication skills because of the cumulative milestones they must demonstrate before they can graduate. This requires an integrated approach where responsibilities are shared across DVC (Academic), program co-ordinators, teaching academics and students; and utilises current practices. It also needs to be adequately resourced within institutions.
Usually evidence is an accumulation of processes, proxies and milestones
There is no one solution to ensuring that all graduates have the required communication skills upon graduation. Rather, institutions can build an evidence-base demonstrating how communication skills are developed, assessed and validated through a holistic, embedded and continual approach across the institution’s operations.
Other broad themes that emerged from consultations include:
- Initiatives and practices targeting the issue of communication skills are emerging across the higher education sector but practices and approaches are varied and lack coherency;
- Greater leadership and institutional policy settings are needed to articulate, influence and cultivate an environment where communication skill development and assurance is stimulated within institutions;
- Employers consider oral and written communication skills of graduates critical to employability but there are concerns about a diversity of graduate behaviours, attitudes, competencies and skills which are often articulated by employers in terms of communication skills;
- Employers and universities need to work more closely to bridge the gap between expectations of graduates from employers and academic requirements within curriculum;
- The communication skills of graduates is a key concern of government to maintain the integrity and reputation of the Australian sector;
- More robust evidence that students are able to demonstrate graduate attributes, particularly communication skills is required for regulatory and accreditation purposes; and
- Professional bodies seek evidence that students have achieved context-specific communication skills aligned to the demands of professional practice.