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