The ways in which the diverse needs of students and graduates within creative fields are supported through higher education can take a wide range of forms, depending on the nature of the discipline and its scope of activity. Employability is often seen as a ‘bolt on’ subject; it is sometimes implicit and not always easily identifiable (via assessment) within courses. As a result, students are not necessarily aware that what they are learning is related to developing employability skills and their ability to articulate this to potential employers/commissioners is limited. If the depth and breadth of teaching and learning in this area is to be assessed, in advance of its improvement, it is crucial to make the current nature of delivery transparent.
At GSA and Bucks, an extensive process was initiated by GSA in 2012 which sought to map the employability and enterprise activity that was taking place within and beyond the curriculum.
To provide an overview of the employability and enterprise-related activity already taking place within both institutions.
To create an understanding of the current context, nature and frequency of activity across art and design programmes.
To recognise and articulate the strong skills base that exists among the student body and the wealth of employability activity that takes place.
To identify the points at which employability is embedded within the curriculum and the points at which it is evident through other means.
To gain, through this process of reflection, a clearer picture of the ways in which students’ employability needs are being met.
To better understand the contribution to employability of a range of practices, and to highlight exemplars of good practice.
To identify both gaps in provision, and areas of further development within the curriculum.
The two institutions followed different but complementary procedures in mapping employability, coming together to track and record activity on a common spreadsheet.
At GSA, an initial consultation period gave rise to an understanding of student perceptions of their own employability-related activity and attitudes towards this.
This was then expanded upon through a detailed analysis of the curriculum, including all areas of the institutions’ departments and embracing non-teaching and extracurricular input (at GSA, this took account of the following departments: Library, Careers, Student Services, Exhibitions, Shop, Student Representative Council (SRC), Archive, Scottish Institute for Enterprise, Technical Services).
Mapping was an extensive iterative exercise which extracted information from within course documentation making employability-related activities apparent in the curriculum. Categories were created (see below) which encompassed existing activity. These were decided upon by combining existing knowledge of the Fine Art and Design curricula with that emerging during the mapping process:
Staff were given the opportunity to identify any omissions of activities from the map and to make additions to it. Outcomes were then fed back to departments and participating students, so that the information could be used to further inform and develop the curriculum.
Mapping was carried out per department and year group, so that characteristics or timings specific to subjects and developmental stages could be considered separately.
At Bucks the mapping exercise took a slightly different sequence; information was gathered from course teams who considered their timetables and schemes of work and also looked at wider activities across their students’ experience. Discrete headings were used for particular employability-related activities adopting the model developed by GSA. A colour-coded spreadsheet was created in Excel, giving an overview of forms of activity and an idea of their frequency. The final categories were:
The spreadsheet allowed findings to be textually and visually recorded to aid communication of employability and enterprise activity across the respective institutions.
It was apparent that different courses delivered different employability-related activities within their timetables and that the frequency of delivery also depended upon the nature of the course. The nature of the course team response, and the way in which staff allocated elements of their course experience to the given headings, also revealed something of their understanding of and attitude towards employability.
Employability-related activities tended to be offered more often in the later years of study. The mapping process highlighted a need for more consistency of delivery, so that all students, irrespective of subject and level of study, have equitable access to employability teaching throughout their higher education.
This website is the culmination of all aspects of the research undertaken during the mapping and other elements of the Anatomy Project, collating the material gathered throughout into a simple-to-use informative site. Users are pointed to an overview of the project, specific findings, discussion points, examples and tools through which employability can be explored further.
What would you like to keep/have more of/introduce into the curriculum?
Formal professional practice
Live / external projects
Artist / designer talk