«S u e Cl e g g J a cq u e li n e Steve nso n J o h n W ill ot t Acknowledgements This project has depended on the support of many people, to whom we ...»
1. Introduction This report presents the findings from the research project Extending conceptualisations of the diversity and value of extra-curricular activities: a cultural capital approach to graduate outcomes. Very little research has specifically addressed the issue of the contribution of extra-curricular activities (ECA) to graduate outcomes. Moreover, there is a striking lack of clarity about what is meant by ‘ECA’ when the term is used in a policy context or indeed in the learning and teaching literature. It appears that there is a ‘common sense’ default position in which sporting, arts, cultural activities, and volunteering might be assumed to be ECA. With changing student profiles we know, however, that many students are engaged in paid employment; that some students have caring and family responsibilities; that some students will continue traditional religious and cultural affiliations; and that some of these activities will take place in the context of them continuing to live in their family home. Rather than proposing our own definition at the outset, we have taken these definitional issues as a research problem to be investigated.
While the meaning of ECA might be unclear, there is, however, a clear policy emphasis on employability and graduate outcomes within which attention to the value of ECA can be articulated. The first section of the report (Section 2.1) therefore explores this policy context and clarifies the terms of debate in relation to the concepts of graduateness and employability. The debate about potential contribution is also influenced by the increased diversity within the university sector and an expansion in the range of activities in which students engage outside their studies, notably paid employment. These issues are addressed in Section 2.2, which looks at changing student profiles. Section 3 introduces our theoretical framework taking a cultural capital approach. The overall thesis of the report is that we need to look more broadly at the whole area of ECA if we are not to default to a more traditional common-sense definition based on an image of the student as full-time, funded, without caring responsibilities, and projected as white, able-bodied, normatively male and single. The final section, before we introduce the main body of the report dealing with our empirical work, looks at the particular characteristics of our study site in relation to the policy and diversity issues we have already outlined.
The Higher Education Academy 8 The major part of the report deals with the design of the study and our empirical findings. This part of the report is organised around the three major instruments we used: a questionnaire survey administered to second-year students (N = 640), in-depth interviews with students identified through the survey (N = 61), and in-depth interviews with staff (N = 18). In the final section, we reflect on our findings from all three sources and propose a more nuanced account of the benefits of ECA for graduate outcomes. We also consider some of the disbenefits and tensions between the curricular and extra-curricular as these appear in the multiple positions expressed by both staff and students. In our recommendations we make some proposals concerning the need for clearer articulation of what we mean by ‘ECA’, ‘the curriculum’, and ‘graduate outcomes’ as a precondition for cementing the relationships between them in ways that advantage not just traditional students, but the diverse student body.
2. Policy context and background
2.1 Employability and graduate outcomes Governments internationally look to higher education to deliver employable graduates and to increase the general stock of high quality human capital that is deemed necessary for economic effectiveness and competitiveness in knowledge-based economies. While there is some doubt about the actual number of jobs that might be characterised in this way (Brine, 2006) it is nonetheless the case, as Yorke (2006) points out, that these arguments have sufficient face validity to ensure that governments remain committed to supplyside policies. These ideas hold sway in the advanced industrial countries and also in the broader global context, reflecting the near universal adoption of neoliberalism (Boughey, 2007). Under the influence of the World Bank, governments are no longer expected to provide employment and legislate for social equity. Rather, they are expected to contrive the conditions under which individuals can exert themselves to take up the available opportunities. With the advent of mass higher education systems ‘employability’ and ‘graduate outcomes’ have played a central part in policy thinking about the benefits of higher education. The future graduate is projected as being capable of taking up opportunities resulting in benefits to the person and providing the economy with the much needed ‘symbolic analysts’ as well as the discoveries the knowledge economy requires (Reich, 1991, 2002). Higher education is, therefore, portrayed by governments as providing a private benefit for individuals, and one for which they are increasingly expected to pay, rather than as a public good.
The employability agenda is frequently cast in utilitarian or reductionist language and described over-simplistically with regard to key, core or transferable skills (Clegg, 2008). Yorke (2006), however, has pointed out that the concept is more complex and cannot be equated with actual employment since employment opportunities are determined by factors at the macroeconomic level outside the control and capacities of the individual. Moreover, obtaining a graduate job often involves a series of protracted and difficult transitions. The relationship of such transitions to the achievement of a first degree is in many cases loose, with employers consistently asserting their The Higher Education Academy 9 preference for good, generic skills and where the possession of a degree is assumed. Yorke (2006), therefore, argues that we should see employability as a
complex concept that is:
… evidenced in the application of a mix of personal qualities and benefits, understanding, skilful practices and the ability to reflect productively on experience. (Yorke, 2006, p. 13) As Yorke notes, this definition eschews terms like ‘skills’ that have bedevilled the debate. His is an essentially hopeful account of employability that emphasises the synergies between the core values of academic practice and the disciplines with those of policy. In reconciling the policy context and academic values he is building on his earlier work with Knight (Knight & Yorke, 2002, 2004) on the USEM model, which interrelates “understanding; skills;
efficacy beliefs, personal skills and qualities; metacognition” (Yorke, 2006, p.
13). This work offers, therefore, a sophisticated understanding of employability more easily reconcilable with the core commitments of academics than crude versions of ‘employability as employment’ might suggest (Clegg, 2008).
Barrie (2004, 2006) has argued for a similarly sophisticated account of graduate outcomes based on research with academics. He argues that in the Australian context, there has been greater willingness to articulate explicit social values as part of the definition of graduateness citing an Australian Government
Department of Education report:
Graduate attributes are the qualities, skills and understandings a university community agree its students should develop during their time with the institution and consequently shape the contribution they are able to make to their profession and society... They are qualities that also prepare graduates as agents of social good in an unknown future (Bowden et al. cited in Barrie, 2004, p. 262) These are important differences of tone, and the use of the term ‘graduateness’ in the Australian policy literature contrasts with the currency of employability in the English context. Nonetheless, with regard to pedagogical approach Yorke (2006) and Barrie (2004) have much in common in seeking to reconcile those capabilities and capacities that represent the general benefits of a university experience with disciplinary concerns on the one side and the overall policy context of supply-side economic thinking on the other. In the UK policy has tended to operate at the different national levels, while in Australia this work, although being required by Government, falls to institutions. Barrie (2004, 2006) based his contribution to the Graduate Attributes Project at the University of Sydney on his prior phenomenographic analysis of academics’ understandings of graduate attributes. Academics’ understandings of these general capabilities
in relation to disciplinary knowledge varied in ways that can be characterised as:
precursor, complementary, translation, and enabling. Barrie (2004, 2006) demonstrated how the Sydney project is building on these research insights to inform an institution-wide framework within which the disciplines articulate the routes to the achievement of agreed graduate attributes.
In both the UK and Australia, initiatives have primarily focused on the curriculum.
In the UK, in addition to numerous projects and the work of a number of current The Higher Education Academy 10 CETLs, there have been major system-wide initiatives. Perhaps the most wide reaching and ambitious is the progress file and the provision for personal development planning. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), which is the UK organisation responsible for defining and making explicit standards for higher education institutions (HEIs), has required all universities to ensure that undergraduate students were provided with an opportunity to engage in PDP since 2005-06, and this provision now encompasses all
students. The QAA defines progress files as containing:
• the transcript: a record of an individual’s learning and achievement, provided by the institution;
• an individual’s personal records of learning and achievements, progress reviews and plans that are used to clarify personal goals and can provide a resource from which material is selected to produce personal statements (e.g. CVs etc) for employers, admissions tutors and others;
• structured and supported processes to develop the capacity of individuals to reflect on their own learning and achievement, and to plan for their own personal educational and career development.
The term Personal Development Planning (PDP) is used to denote this process. (Quality Assurance Agency, 2001, p. 2) At the policy level, therefore, PDP is part of the broader policy agenda across higher education that focuses on employability and the acquisition of generic and transferable skills. However, as can be seen from the QAA definition, the idea of progress files combines multiple elements and the development of a number of related but different capacities (Clegg, 2004). At the time of implementation the Generic Centre of the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) produced Guides for Busy Academics on PDP. Guide 1 (LTSN Generic Centre, 2002), for example, emphasised the importance of improving students’ understanding of how they are learning, of offering students an opportunity to develop a holistic overview of their course, of enabling students to reflect critically and become more independent, as well as encouraging students to consider actively their academic, extra-curricular activity and career opportunities. Other Guides made explicit the link to employability and argued that “students will be better equipped to convince employers that they are employable and they should be more aware of what they need to do to stay employed” (LTSN Generic Centre, 2003).