Assessment of Key Skills
Garth Rhodes and Freda Tallantyre
The University of Northumbria at Newcastle (UNN), has held a view for long before the Dearing Report that key skills are important to graduates, and indeed its mission, framed in 1987, pledged:
dedication to the development of the full human potential of its students
and to their better preparation for employment, through the develop-
ment not only of intellectual abilities but also enterprise, competencies
and personal skills.
In 1988, UNN became one of the first eleven universities to implement the UK's Enterprise in Higher Education (EHE) initiative. Throughout that fiveyear programme, we worked with a checklist of thirteen skills which were collated from those which employers most Frequently claimed to be desirable. They were, however, neither further differentiated as to importance, nor further defined in meaning. The emphasis of EHE was upon development and assessment of skills, but course teams applied their own interpretations and priorities. The whole picture was very patchy and unsystematic, even within single programmes, let alone within or across institutions.
While EHE was operating, however, other developments were taking place which were considerably to refine models for key skills. There had previously been Business and Technical Education Council (BTEC) Common Skills, though these were somewhat underrated by higher education. In the 1990s, though, National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) were beginning to register a strong presence, and although higher education found much that was unpalatable in the discourse of 'standards' and 'competence', they did find value in the notion of articulating more clearly what graduates should know and be able to do as a result of their courses. The language of learning outcomes became widespread and the foundation for many modular curricula. The progress of the Management Charter Initiative helped make this more respectable at the higher levels.