Laura Brown, Careers Adviser
What did you do?
The School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics with the Careers Service have created, evolved and continue to deliver ‘Mathematical Skills and Career Management’, a compulsory 10 credit employability module for all single honours Stage 2 students (approximately 200 per cohort). The module has ran over the last three years but has continually evolved and changed based on student feedback, reflection and student engagement measures.
Graduate Framework Attributes
This approach develops the following attributes:
- Future focused
- Critical Thinkers
- Creative, Innovative and Enterprising
- Digitally Capable
Staff can find out more about the Graduate Framework on the University intranet.
Who is involved?
- Dr Phil Ansell (Senior Lecturer and Director of Excellence in Learning and Teaching (DELT), School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics)
- Dr Charlotte Hope (Enterprise Adviser, Careers Service)
- Laura Brown (Careers Adviser, Careers Service)
How did you do it?
Successfully embedding employability into the curriculum firstly needs a collated understanding across the School through the appropriate channels of what it is, why it is important for the whole university, and why it needs integrating. Establishing good relationships between the Careers Service and the academic school therefore has been crucial for embedding employability into the maths curriculum. Phil Ansell, as both DELT and as Academic Lead for Employability and Enterprise, is very enthusiastic about employability and can see the importance of having it as part of the schools’ teaching, so was able to articulate this via the necessary means in the relevant forums, such as Board of Studies. Phil’s role has meant he can contextualise employability learning as important professional development whilst linking it to other subject specific learning outcomes in the curriculum.
Furthermore, data is powerful! Using data from attendance figures, Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) and career registration (further details below), provided us with concrete evidence that the approach to employability within the School was simply not working. Moreover, as some of this data feeds into important metrics such as the TEF, this has helped reinforce that employability is a university responsibility, not just the Careers Service.
To make room for employability teaching in the curriculum, we integrated employability teaching alongside mathematical software LaTeX, Microsoft Excel, as well as financial mathematics. Employability has therefore been embedded within existing mathematics teaching and has gone hand-in-hand with relevant subject matter.
Why did you do it?
There were many reasons why we chose to embed employability into the curriculum over other means, for instance co-curricular delivery or online delivery. Fundamentally, it meant it would increase employability engagement with Maths students.
Across the School, attendance on co-curricular careers sessions was low, both in the School and in the Careers Service central workshops as well as the drop-in service. Making employability compulsory and part of the curriculum means therefore compulsory participation, engagement and employability related activities integrated into their learning and teaching. The Career Registration data shows that Maths students across Newcastle University scored the lowest across the board on their career readiness, with 75.9% in ‘planning’, compared to the 52.8% average. This data convinced us that the teaching content should focus more upon self and occupational awareness rather than job application skills.
Modular teaching allows us to support students in their career planning more effectively than ad hoc teaching sessions that are not compulsory. Our module aims to develop students as individuals who are more confident in their job search and more articulate in defining what they want in their career. We place greater emphasis upon ‘doing’; students are given the space and encouraged to undertake various activities which will take them out of their comfort zone and in turn, enhance their skillsets so they have more to put on their CV… rather than simply showing them how to write a CV. Their reflections of their activities form the basis of the summative assessment. We place significant emphasis upon reflection, within both teaching and assessment. Structured reflection enables students to identify their skills, interests and values, which in turn supports career planning and their ability to articulate their qualities to employers. Employability teaching is effective when supported by ‘structured processes that develop the ability for self-reflection’*.
Having a captured audience can potentially lead to positive effects for graduate employment. For instance, research has shown that ‘credit-bearing careers education can have encouraging effects on the likelihood of a positive graduate destination’**. DLHE figures for Maths and Stats have been lower than the University’s average return rates of positive destinations, which we hope the module will lead to higher rates when the new data through GO (Graduate Outcomes) is released. We hope this to be the case with a heightened sense of self and occupational awareness as well as self-management, students will more likely be more confident to both apply to and secure employment.
“I feel the life experience that comes from the module will greatly help with getting a grad job or any summer experience, and I would recommend even if people were on the fence about taking it.”
“Definitely recommend. It was really good to have time dedicated to working on job/internship applications, my CV, covering letter and interview practise as part of a module, instead of having to fit it in alongside studying other modules.”
“I enjoyed the module and think it benefitted me, if it wasn’t compulsory I probably wouldn’t have taken it”
“I think that if the module is optional then a lot of students who could potentially benefit from the module wouldn’t choose it. Careers is really important to everyone – it’s the reason we all came to university in the first place so I think it’s really helpful to be taught about it”
“I think it didn’t appeal at first as a module I’d want to do as there wasn’t much maths in it due to the nature of the module. However, having actually done the module I felt it was worthwhile.”
Students from the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics
Does it work?
Whilst a compulsory module ensures students participate in employability learning, it does not necessarily mean they will actively engage with it or see its relevance. Moving away from practical, exam based, right/wrong assessments and sessions, to more explorative and reflective activities, have, understandably, felt quite alien at times to this particular student group, our favourite piece of module feedback being “what does employability have to do with me and maths?!”. EvasSys feedback has been extremely mixed, with some students, as above, not understanding the module’s relevancy and demonstrating a discomfort with both the teaching and the assessment. However, EvaSys is very a much a ‘live’ response from students currently in the midst of the module, perhaps unable to see the wood for the trees. Further anecdotal and case study feedback received that shows the value of time and reflection. For instance, Staff Student Committees have had third-year students talk to the second year students undertaking the module that “we thought this too, but give it time”. Indeed, our two focus groups have generated some great feedback that highlights the value of in-curriculum employability teaching over co-curricular. We have also received more evidence of student engagement because of the module; we now have more students than ever signed up for our third year in-house Careers Service modules. We could not have scared them off too much!
The longer term effects of employability is still lacking due to lack of data, but we hope to see some positive results next year.
We often use the analogy that students are eating their vegetables, they may not necessarily enjoy it at the time but it is better for them in the long-run!
Interested in finding out more
*Pegg, A, Waldock, J, Hendy-Isaac, S & Lawton, R. (2012) Pedagogy for Employability. York: Higher Education Academy.
**O’Riordan, R. Del Rio, E. & Wieczorek, J. (2017) Exploring the impact of undergraduate credit-bearing careers education: Preparing our graduates. University of Dundee; AGCAS.
Other interesting reading:
Cole, D. and Tibby, M. (2014) Defining and Developing your approach to employability: a framework for higher education institutions. York: Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/employability_framework.pdf
Foskett, R. and Johnston, B. (2006). Curriculum Development and Career Decision-Making in Higher Education: Credit-Bearing Careers Education. http://www.hecsu.ac.uk/assets/assets/documents/Credit_bearing.pdf 18 November 2017].
GTI media research, (2013) Great expectations: How good are universities at making their students more employable?http://heer.qaa.ac.uk/SearchForSummaries/Summaries/Pages/HEER000228.aspx