Dr John Miles, CEO of Inkpath

As we continue along our post-pandemic roadmap to recovery, and universities look at new ways of attracting and retaining students, higher education can bolster its offering through quality personal professional development, supported by technology.

After a year of living with COVID-19, universities will be reflecting on the endless challenges that came their way over the past 12 months.

University teams have continued to work hard to keep students motivated and to support their progress, despite all of the difficulties created by the pandemic.

Progress towards these formal qualifications has been central to many universities’ teaching focus, with the quality of the student – and the institution – being judged on these outcomes, regardless of how teaching is delivered. As a result, there is pressure from all sides to focus on completing degrees and research programmes quickly and to a high standard.

But students have been given one unexpected gift during these past 12 months: time. Time to consider their future options, plan their careers, and assess what they really need from their post-pandemic education. Now, more than ever, their education has to make them stand out in a job market which will reach unprecedented levels of saturation and competition. 

Offering value through personal and professional development

With so much disruption to the ‘traditional’ university experience recently due to COVID-19, the spotlight has been on universities to prove the value of their offering to students. I believe that one of the ways this can be done is through offering quality personal and professional development to all students, supported by the right technology.

The aim of personal and professional development is to help you ‘own’ and manage your learning and growth throughout your career. This could be through continuing education, skills-based training, or just about anything you might consider to be ‘co-’ or ‘extra-’ curricular. It remains vital that young adults continue to receive high-quality information and support to help them design their post-graduate life. To those students graduating in our post-pandemic world, it is crucial we empower them to succeed beyond university life, as much as we possibly can.

Creating a portfolio in the student’s pocket

I believe that, used in the right way, technology can encourage a student’s sense of ownership of their personal and professional development, and enhance their understanding of the value of their university experience.

Supporting Careers Services’ efforts and providing excellent personal and professional development, integrated where possible into the curriculum, is a key part of this. And having great technology to help students to discover and navigate the provision helps, too. But by themselves these things will not magically or intrinsically make students take genuine ‘ownership’ of their professional paths, even if having a great offering that is well-signposted does help create the conditions for this to happen.

As well as expanding and signposting opportunities, universities must provide students with a way of easily keeping their own record of their achievements in and beyond their degree. Not just as a traditional e-portfolio (who has time for those?), but in a way that is integrated into the provision of their university, one which takes only a press of a button or a scan of a code, and one which is verified and holds real value for future employers. Ownership of personal and professional development should start and end with the individual, and good technology can remove the barriers to this happening.

By adopting a great skills and career development platform and placing it at the heart of their offering, universities can give their students access to all the resources they need to support effective career development and encourage the sense of ownership I have described here. The business case is simple: make administration easier, saving resources and freeing time to focus on design and delivery of personal and professional development programmes, provide a better student experience, and shape students into career-minded professionals who are uniquely placed to thrive.

Creating compelling futures

As restrictions begin to lift, and campuses hope to come to life again, the Government has said that universities should consider moving their provision online where possible.

This shift to a new environment and new way of working is a chance to change how we do things with personal and professional development. We need to take this opportunity to empower students and graduates with tools and techniques to deal with the changes and uncertainty around them so they can start creating a more compelling future for themselves.

I believe that skills-literate students are better able to navigate an ever-complicated and uncertain career reality. And it is my ambition to ensure that universities have the tools they need to help their students develop the necessary skills to pursue unique trajectories – those they have discovered, those they have charted, and those that are right for them.

Dr John Miles, CEO of Inkpath

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