Tomorrow’s People

Universities building Scotland’s future

Universities are a key engine of the Scottish economy, leading innovation, nurturing entrepreneurship and enabling thousands of graduates year on year to develop the skills they will need for careers in a changing workplace.

There is strong evidence that in general more graduates leads to more productivity in the workforce. Universities have a key role in progressing towards an inclusive economy that promotes fair work and good-quality jobs. For smaller economies such as Scotland, high-level skills are a necessity in order to ensure we can continue to compete in a globalised context where artificial intelligence, data science, robot technologies and digital drive innovation.

For Scotland to be a successful economy, we must compete internationally – and graduates with the high-level skills that our universities are uniquely positioned to deliver drive our competitiveness.

The key things we want to see to help achieve this are:

  • A flexible skills system that recognises the higher-level skills and attributes Scotland’s graduates will need to enable them to thrive in diverse roles in a changing economy.
  • Discussions on skills needs with employers, providers and agencies to understand emerging needs.
  • Flexible incentives for institutions to develop new approaches to upskilling and to lifelong learning. For example, developing ‘microcredentials’ that can be stand-alone skills driven modules or be part of a postgraduate qualification.
  • Explicit commitment from the Scottish Government to fund lifelong learning opportunities so that people can upskill and reskill as they navigate through their evolving careers.
  • Scottish Government incentives for employers to invest in developing their staff, particularly in leadership and management skills and capabilities and for staff in SMEs.
  • Further development of Graduate Apprenticeships to address implementation issues highlighted by institutions and increase responsiveness to both employer and learner needs, with a particular focus on SMEs.
  • Work with partners to tackle equality issues and create sustainable and inclusive growth.
  • Strong university involvement in the further development of metaskills to join up with existing work on graduate attributes.

Learning and work

Every one of Scotland’s universities organise work placement opportunities for their students. This is not just limited to students on more vocational courses. Work placements offer the
chance to develop a deeper understanding of industry, build their confidence and apply their skills. As is the case with graduate jobs in general, work placements do not necessarily require a particular degree.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) provides a ‘proto-professional environment’ that immerses students in similar environments to the professions they are preparing to enter. The 2018 QAA Enhancement-led Institutional Review commended RCS for this initaitive which offers workbased learning opportunities with a wide range of companies including the BBC, Scottish Ballet, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the National Theatre of Scotland. These partnerships give students the opportunity to benefit from work experience, work shadowing, mentoring and other programmes. For example, BA Filmmaking students have worked at BBC studios with leading industry professionals as mentors, been able to access BBC sound dubbing facilities and undertake work placements.

The University of Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology developed a Careers Board and a mentoring project pairing current undergraduate students with alumni. Dr Lisa Brown, Archaeological Science Manager at Historic Environment Scotland, is a mentor on the programme and says:

“Personally I have found the programme extremely rewarding, meeting the next generation of people passionate about the historic environment and helping them to find a direction for their future career. For example, if you have an archaeology degree but love working with people and have great communication skills, why not consider working in education and outreach, with a focus on archaeology and history. In some cases, it can lead to volunteering opportunities, allowing the student to get a fuller understanding of a particular role, and learning the skills necessary to carry that out effectively, e.g. object handling or cataloguing of a collection.”

Key Points:

  • 79% of UK employers predict growth in higher skills jobs in their companies.
  • 63% of employers were not confident about being able to fill their vacancies for high skilled employees pointing to continued strong demand for graduates.
  • 90% of the employers rate graduate attitude and aptitudes amongst their top three factors for graduate recruitment.

Further Reading


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