University of AlbertaEdmonton, Canada
1 November 1996
By Michael Robb
If Arts students can be made more aware of the skills they're developing, they would feel a lot better about their studies and, ultimately, see how it all fits into the world of work, says Arts Students' Association President Sheamus Murphy.
Murphy is hopeful a recently established Dean's Task Force on Employability of Arts graduates will come up with some concrete suggestions on how to do that. This would empower Arts students and give them a greater ability to market themselves once they hit the job market, he explains.
Arts students are feeling anxious about their job prospects these days, Murphy explains, so the task force is well timed.
"We're concerned about the future of Arts students," says Dean of Arts Patricia Clements. "On the one hand, it's a tough job market, yet on the other hand we know that Arts graduates do well in that market."
One of the task force's main goals is to develop a skills description project-in effect, to document the intellectual, technical and personal skills acquired by Faculty of Arts graduates. Although the accent will be on documenting skills that enhance graduates' employment prospects, the task force also plans to document skills which equip graduates for responsible citizenship and life-long learning.
"What we do is implicit; we need to make it more explicit," explains task force chair Graham Lowe (Sociology). "The basic objective is to help students document how their programs provide them with a solid intellectual foundation."
The task force also seeks to: document current practices in the Faculty for development of employability skills and communicate those experiences throughout the Faculty; make recommendations to the Faculty on educating employers, politicians, policy makers, media and the public about the value of an Arts degree; examine how the Faculty, in collaboration with Career and Placement Services, can most effectively provide employment-related services to all students; and, examine possible changes in curriculum and teaching practices which would further the objectives of a skills description project, especially the development of a first-year experience course.
"If we do all of this, it will certainly help us more effectively communicate to the community and employers just how our graduates make exceptional contributions to society," says Dr Lowe.
Murphy says the real challenge for the Faculty is to meet students' rising expectations without changing what it actually does substantially. Arts is about education, not training, he hastens to add, and the skills Arts students are learning-the ability to analyze, synthesize and learn how to learn-are the basis of rewarding careers and satisfying lives. "We have to maintain the integrity of the liberal arts degree."
In fact, says the Dean, study after study concludes that arts courses are the very best in teaching employability skills employers value so much. She points to a recent study in British Columbia as an example. The Economic Benefits of Postsecondary Training and Education in BC: An Outcomes Assessment, by Robert Allen, an economics professor at UBC, concluded that "university Arts programs are more effective than any other program in teaching employability skills." He recommended that the employability skill content of vocationally oriented programs could be increased by incorporating more Arts education into them.
Still, says Murphy, students are paying more for their education, working part-time jobs to pay the bills, struggling to maintain their academic standards and, not surprisingly, raising their expectations of the University. It's not surprising that students believe that the University is here to serve students.
According to Dr Lowe, the Arts Faculty hopes that by heightening students' awareness of the value of their studies, they will actually get more out of their programs. And Murphy hopes that a more concrete identity will emerge for Arts students.
The task force is expected to make its recommendations by the end of the year.
The task force members are: Gay Bisanz (Psychology); Gary Prideaux (Linguistics); Nasrin Rahimieh (Modern Languages and Comparative Studies); Jorge Frascara (Art and Design); Dylan Scammell (Past President, Arts Students' Association); and, Sheamus Murphy (President, Arts Students' Association).
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