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Developing graduates skills in HE mathematics programmes through case studies of successful practice

CETL-MSOR Conference 2010, University of Birmingham (06/09/10).

I had a small involvement in this talk by Jeff Waldock.

The increasing importance attached to the additional skills students should be gaining at University, over and above their course-specific skills, has been emphasised in recent reports both by the Government (e.g. 'Higher Ambitions', November 2009; 'Unleashing Ambitions', January 2010), by students (the National Student Forum 'Annual Report', October 2009), and by employers ('A Manifesto for Graduate Recruitment', March 2010; 'Ready to Grow', CBI, May 2010). This applies to postgraduate courses as well as undergraduate courses (Smith Report, 'One Step Beyond'. March 2010). There is clearly pressure from all quarters to develop courses that more effectively prepare graduates for employment, and raise student awareness of the range and importance of the skills that they need. All the indications are that this will continue for at least the next ten years. Mathematics graduates, as much as any, will be affected because of the diverse range of career opportunities available to them. There are significant barriers involved, however, when seeking to modify Mathematics programmes to encourage the development of graduate skills. One is fundamentally philosophical, as some will wish to retain the pure, theoretical nature of their courses. Another is the practical difficulty of finding space for graduate skills development in a crowded curriculum. This latter problem can be addressed - at least in part - by developing different approaches toward learning, teaching and assessment, and by encouraging students to take part in extra-curricular activities. Central to this is the need to increase student awareness of the wider purpose of each activity in developing their skills, and the value of doing so. The introduction of the Higher Education Achievement Record, as recommended by the Burgess Report, will provide further incentive for this. Supported by the national STEM project and the MSOR network via a miniproject, we are developing a series of short case studies, each focussed on specific graduate skills, providing examples of ways in which these have been successfully developed in our departments. The project also aims to evaluate what techniques have been successful and why, and to make some suggestions for how they may be used elsewhere. In this presentation, we will describe some of the work carried out on the project so far, and invite comment (and further contributions) from the audience.