The higher education landscape has changed markedly over the last 40 years. No longer can universities offer academic qualifications without reference to the needs of the student or the wider economy; HE institutions now have to focus their efforts on producing graduates who are equipped for the world of work and who have all the attributes that employers need.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln, where thousands of pounds are being invested in further enhancing graduate attributes and employability.
The university already has an enviable track record of success when it comes to graduates finding relevant jobs. Established more than 150 years ago, BGU made its name as a provider of high-quality teacher training programmes, and teacher education remains a core part of the University’s activity. But the academic portfolio has been widened in recent years and now incorporates degrees as diverse as archaeology, drama, counselling, mathematics, psychology and sport. As the portfolio has broadened, so the employability of graduates has remained among the highest in the country: graduates from BGU are more likely to be in work or further study a year after finishing their course than graduates from any other university in England.*
Such outstanding results – last year’s DLHE survey showed that 97.2% of BGU graduates are in work or further study six months after graduation – are not achieved by accident. They require an enormous commitment on the part of the University to create relevant links with business and industry, embed employability skills in the curriculum and prepare students for life after university.
An event staged in March was typical of the work that BGU does to enhance graduate attributes and ensure they are fitted to the modern economy. The University set itself an institutional enhancement goal this academic year to embed a suite of graduate attributes across all courses, and The League of Extraordinary Graduates event addressed the processes by which this can be done.
The event offered staff and students the opportunity to learn more about BGU’s Graduate Attributes programme and was characteristic of how the institution works in collaboration on projects with its students. The event was staged jointly by the University’s careers service and the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, a new department which opened this spring. Its focus was to assess the University’s success in embedding graduate attributes and it gave those attending the chance to hear from inspirational employers.
“We were delighted with the number of students who attended the conference this year and especially pleased with feedback from the delegates,” said Kate Smith, one of the organisers. “The event was very successful with 100% of delegates reporting a better understanding of graduate attributes.
“Graduates from Bishop Grosseteste University are among the most employable in the country and the University’s Graduate Attributes scheme has a recognised positive impact on students’ future employability.”
The League of Extraordinary Graduates was the first event staged by CELT, which was created this year thanks to a £400,000 investment. Housed in a former art building on campus which has been converted into a mixture of open plan, office and meeting rooms, CELT promotes innovative approaches to learning and teaching and works across the University to drive forward innovative, research-informed approaches to learning, teaching and assessment.
“The University is committed to ensuring that its staff continue to be outstanding and inspirational higher education practitioners who are working to create capable graduates rich in knowledge, who reach their full potential as professionals and who can contribute to society as global citizens,” says Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jayne Mitchell.
“Excellent learning, teaching and student engagement is at the heart of BGU and it is truly fitting that we have such a wonderful facility right in the heart of the campus.”
Alongside the investment in CELT, Bishop Grosseteste University is also making other improvements to its campus in leafy uphill Lincoln. Work costing £2.8m to double the size of the Constance Stewart Hall teaching block will be completed this summer and will create two extra floors to provide new teaching spaces for BGU students.
The works involved building a steel-framed structure on top of part of the original building which will give the University an additional seven teaching spaces set over two floors. This approach of building over an existing structure means that BGU will significantly increase its teaching space capacity without increasing the building’s overall footprint, which helps to maintain the green and open feel of the campus.
“The new classrooms will give our students state-of-the-art teaching facilities in a modern extension which complements the original building extremely well,” said Craig Stacey, Interim Head of Estates at BGU. “This new building will update this part of our campus and give BGU a real statement building on one of the main routes into Lincoln.”
The teaching spaces will provide the students with excellent facilities and also incorporate moveable partition walls, increasing their flexibility, meaning that they can be used not only for teaching but also for a variety of functions and events.
Excellent learning, teaching and student engagement is at the heart of BGU
Even the development of a new building on campus is an opportunity to enhance the graduate attributes of BGU students, who had the opportunity to gain valuable work experience on the project with the building contractors, Robert Woodhead Ltd.
Another significant development for enhancing the employability of students at BGU was the opening in 2012 of BG Futures, the University’s dedicated business start-up centre. With 15 office units available, BG Futures differs from other incubation centres by emphasising BGU’s values of equality and diversity, valuing individuals no matter where they come from and giving everyone an equal chance in life. BG Futures aims to break down barriers and show people that they can be successful in business no matter who they are or where they come from.
The centre offers a full range of careers information and advice and guidance services and is fully accredited for psychometric assessment and analysis. There’s also a free vacancy service for employers, coaching and mentoring opportunities and advice on funding.
For start-up businesses physical units and virtual office space are available from £25 per month. Tenants benefit from in-house business advice, links with researchers, networks, other businesses, students and graduates and the regular events hosted at BG Futures such as conferences and training sessions. There are also close links between BG Futures and the new Business: Team Entrepreneurship degree course which encourages students to think like entrepreneurs and requires them to launch their own business ventures while still at university.
BGU’s Vice-Chancellor, the Reverend Professor Canon Peter Neil, is convinced of the need to do everything possible to prepare graduates for the world of work – and he is proud of BGU’s record of achievement.
“The fact that Bishop Grosseteste University consistently comes at or near the top of employability rankings is clear evidence that we are equipping students for the job market,” he says.
“A university education is not simply an academic training, but also a preparation for the world of work. Here at BGU we work very hard to ensure that our degree courses are career-focused, and most of them incorporate a professional work placement during the period of study.
“No other higher education institution can match our level of sustained performance over eight years, and we are particularly pleased to have broadened our academic portfolio in recent years while maintaining the outstanding employability record of our graduates.”
*Department for Education, December 2016