Key Skills Framework
Enhancing employability within a lifelong learning paradigm
A working paper by the Skills Research Initiative
A prior version of this paper was accepted for presentation at the International Technology Education and Development (INTED) annual conference 2007.
Dublin Institute of Technology context
The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) is a multi-level HE provider and awarding body. The DIT campus comprises six faculties located in a network of 36 locations in the heart of Dublin, the capital of Ireland. Findings presented in the Institutes Self-evaluation Report for the preliminary stage of the European University Association (EUA) Quality Review of DIT noted that the demographics of the Institute in 2004 consisted of a student body of 19,969, 1001 academic staff and 830 management, support, administration and technical staff. These figures suggest that DIT is one of the largest HE providers in the state. The historical origins of DIT can be traced back to 1887 and the emergence of vocational education. DIT was statutorily established as an autonomous institution by the Irish Government under the DIT Act, 1992. This Act made provisions for the merger of six City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC) Colleges to become an integrated Institute of HE. The Act sets out the Institute’s functions, the principal one being to provide vocational and technical education and training for the economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial, social and cultural development of the state. In this context the Institute is to provide programmes of study at a range of award levels. Provision is also made for engaging in research, consultancy and development work, either on its own or with other institutions, and to provide services in relation to such work and to exploit the results of this work. DIT’s Mission Statement states:
The Institute is a comprehensive higher education institution, fulfilling a national and international role in providing full-time and part-time programmes across the whole spectrum of higher education, supported by research and scholarship in areas reflective of the Institute’s mission. It aims to achieve this in an innovative, responsive, caring and flexible learning environment with state-of-the-art facilities and the most advanced technology available. It is committed to providing access to higher education for students of different ages and backgrounds, and to achieving quality and excellence in all aspects of its work. This commitment extends to the provision of teaching, research, development and consultancy services for industry and society, with due regard to the technological, commercial, social and cultural needs of the community it serves.
(DIT 2001: 7)
This project is clearly aligned to the DIT Mission Statement and seeks to realise the inherent direction as stated above with regards to access, part-time students, flexible learning models, quality, research and consultancy, and meeting the Institute’s societal needs. Further, this project endeavours to identify similarities in policy trends from three difference sources: macro (international), meso (European) and micro (national). From this triangulation process a single strand of enquiry – ‘employability’ – will be extrapolated and refined. The project will also explore some of the other powerful dynamics at play (see Figure 2).
Learning and teaching informed by research is a common strand that flows through these policy levels, and an undercurrent that is emerging is the linkage of education and training to the needs of the labour market. Within the locus of this emerging strand is the notion of workforce capacity and up-skilling to meet the needs and challenges posed by the increasingly competitive employment environment. DIT recognises that the shift from student life to working life presents numerous challenges for all concerned. To advise and assist students during this life-cycle transition DIT provides a professional Careers Service division. Such services are often seen as functionaries of the state, furthering the needs of the economy by advising and guiding students towards jobs that society requires if it is to develop and maintain its economic competitiveness. They are seen as the enablers of human capital theory, working with and within HE institutions to ensure an adequate supply and flow of human capital for deployment to meet the economy’s needs. This manifests itself operationally as either helping students get their first job or, more basically, getting jobs for students. The DIT Careers Service can and often does do this, but more fundamentally it seeks to place the ‘human’ at the heart of the human capital debate. Reductionist thinking of viewing humans as sets of skills and competencies meeting economic needs is in itself rather dehumanising. Instead education should focus on the personal and social dimensions of human existence as well as the academic and vocational dimensions.