Graduate attributes in higher education: profiles or competencies?
Higher education is in a state of transformation across the world. The 2009 synthesis report from the Global University Network for Innovation draws attention to the many challenges that confront the sector. There is a need to move beyond the 'ivory tower' or 'market-oriented university' towards one that innovatively adds value to the process of social transformation. However, there are emerging tensions that bear upon this question such as reactive versus proactive approaches with respect to knowledge paradigms; a focus on the knowledge economy versus the knowledge society; and knowledge relevance versus competitively driven knowledge. The net effect of this is that graduates require a range of attributes that enable them to deal with, not only employability, but also an increasing concern with global issues and the development of civic awareness and responsibility. According to this view it is not the subject of study or the acquisition of skills or competencies that educators need to focus on but rather personal aspects such as authenticity, dispositions, inspiration, passion and spirit. However, the focus on the personal through linking personal development planning with graduate attributes is not without its problems. Indeed the whole focus on generic graduate attributes has itself been questioned in terms of the ways in which they are context-dependent and shaped by the disciplinary epistemology in which they are conceptualised and taught. This paper therefore offers a sympathetic and yet critical appraisal of the focus on graduate attributes using the Scottish higher education system as an example.