The management of SAAGE has articulated the need to strengthen SAAGE students’ advantage so that SAAGE can attract and retain more and better students needed to learn and succeed in a knowledge-based economy and to make meaningful contributions to society, both nationally and internationally, when they graduate. Increasingly, universities, employers of highly qualified people, and graduates themselves recognize the importance of professional skills that complement their disciplinary expertise.
To be competitive then, students increasingly need to engage in ongoing development of their skills in areas that complement their academic programs and enhance their employability. The knowledge economy demands a high level of professional skills from all of its participants if they are going to increase the economic and social benefits nationally and internationally and for society in general. These new expectations are complementary to not instead of academic credentials. In 1998 Oblinger and Vervillei made an observation still relevant today: “The problem is not that today’s graduates are less skilled than those of previous generations, but that expectations for performance are much higher today than ever before.”
SAAGE academic programmes provide many opportunities for skills development but this aspect of education has only recently been emphasized. Effective professional skills development provides our students with opportunities to reflect on and extend their expert knowledge and experience as they develop individual careers. Universities across the country and the world recognize this and have risen to the challenge within the limits of their resources and expertise.
The premise that disciplinary knowledge and technical skills remain the most important aspects of any graduate training delivered at the university. By skills we mean behaviors that can be learned, that can be improved with practice, that require reflection, and that benefit from ongoing improvement. The phrase professional skills is used here in the broad sense to describe skills that are complementary to disciplinary knowledge and that will enhance the graduate’s ability to be successful in the transition from academic to work life.
Just as there are differences in academic expectations from bachelors, masters to PhD programs, there are different expectations for professional skills for different career contexts, from the private sector to academia, to the government and public sectors, and to not-for-profit organizations. Initially, at least, we will concentrate on areas that have broad application.
While universities are clearly responsible for the discipline-specific skills, they have become more involved in the broader skill development, whether this development is overt and intentional or not. Currently, many of the resources, courses, and programs mentioned in this module already exist in pockets within university communities. By taking a more structured approach in the area of professional skills, universities can enhance their ability to help their students achieve a higher level of competitive expertise.