Mika Launikari


Employability of higher education graduates - A hot topic in the German-speaking Europe

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The 19th Alumni-clubs.net Conference on Alumni-Management, Career Service and Fundraising was held in Göttingen, Germany, on 9-11 May 2014. This Alumni-clubs.net is a network of higher education institutions and other related stakeholders across the German speaking Europe (incl. Austria, Germany, Switzerland). The main aim of the network is to support exchange of experiences, mutual learning and networking in the areas linked to alumni management, career service, marketing and promotional activities. In the coming years, there is an intention to expand the network to other countries as well.      

I myself had the honour of contributing to this interesting event as an invited speaker by running a 90-minute workshop, in which I introduced the development work on graduate employability in Finnish higher education and briefly presented the European Union policy and strategy framework for education, employment and lifelong guidance. The workshop participants were extremely active and interested in learning about the theoretical foundation underlying employability as well as how guidance and counselling can support the acquisition of career management and employability skills throughout studies in tertiary education.

Moreover, already at the conference and in the discussions following the event I have been informed that a German-coordinated large-scale research study on employability with involvement of several European countries (at least Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland) will be launched soon. The first phase of this research will be conducted in 2014-15.   

The intention is to collect data from students in higher education institutions and to consult employers to get an overview of how the concept of employablity is perceived and interpreted and what elements and/or dimensions are linked to it. The results will hopefully give insights into how higher education institutions can improve their methods and means to help students develop their employability skills while studying, and how closer links between learning and working can be established in the future (i.e. education-business cooperation).    

The website www.alumni-clubs.net (in German) gives additional information on the objectives and activities of the alumni-clubs.net. The 20th network conference will be arranged in Potsdam, Germany, on 8-10 May 2015.

Social Learning Analytics - A new participatory online learning culture

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Recently I read an inspiring article on Social Learning Analytics (SLA) written by Simon Buckingham Shum and Rebecca Ferguson (2012). Social Learning Analytics deal with elements of learning that are relevant when the overall learning process takes place in a participatory online culture. The focus is on processes, in which learners are not solitary, but engaged either in direct interaction with others or in using forums where other users will be experiencing their online activity and presence.

The authors address the fact that there is a profound transition towards a new learning paradigm and that this shift calls for finding totally new ways to define how we as a society think about learning. Thus, more attention will have to be drawn to understanding learning and knowledge construction as a dynamic group process. Social Learning Analytics stress that new skills and ideas are generated and passed on in collective interaction and collaboration. Rarely idea generation or skills development can be regarded as an individual achievement only in the context of SLA.

There is already enough evidence that traditional barriers between formal and informal learning as well as between face-to-face and virtual learning have been broken down. The education system is moving from delivering learning to helping people to help each other to learn. All this creates tremendous challenges, but opportunities as well, to educational institutions. Due to the SLA evolution, their societal role will undergo changes in terms of how much power and control they have over individual learning and the way learning is organised in an online environment.

High-quality interpersonal relationships, tacit knowledge, dialogue and passion are key ingredients for the way humans catalyse learning and innovation in future. The aim of education is to ensure that students upon their graduation are equipped with detailed knowledge of their study field, and with key competences and learning dispositions (such as creativity, curiosity, resilience) required to go on learning on a lifelong basis.

Core skills in high demand among graduates are, for example, an ability to assess new information and changing situations, reflective capacity to support professional judgement for improving their activity, and networking skills to act and cooperate effectively as team members. Learning analytics should enable all learners to acquire these critical skills as they are highly needed in the knowledge- and competence-driven economy.

Buckingham Shum, S. & Ferguson, R. (2012). Social Learning Analytics. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 15 (3), 3-26. Available on the Internet at www.ifets.info/journals/15_3/ets_15_3.pdf

A few thoughts about identity

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I just finished reading the book entitled Identity written by the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. He explores the notion of identity in our liquid modern times and discusses how our professional, cultural, religious, sexual and socio-political identities are in a continuous and never-ending process of transformation. Identity, as Professor Bauman explains, is by its very nature deeply elusive and ambivalent. I imagine that for most of us it is easy to agree with his notion of identity.

The other day I had a look into how the European Commission is collecting data on the public opinion on the sense of European citizenship and identity across the 28 EU Member States and the candidate countries. The Commission is interested in knowing, if Europeans primarily see themselves as European citizens or rather define themselves by their nationality.

For research purposes the Commission uses the so-called Moreno question in its Eurobarometer survey on citizenship and identity: “Do you in the near future see yourself as (nationality) only, (nationality) and European, European and (nationality) or European only?”. The most recent Standard Eurobarometer survey (N:o 77, 2012) on European citizenship revealed that overall an increased majority of Europeans define themselves by their nationality and as Europeans (49 %). In the light of this Eurobarometer survey the respondents most attached to the European Union are in Luxembourg (72%), Poland (60%) and Belgium (58%), whereas the least attached can be found in the United Kingdom (27%), Finland (33%) and Cyprus (33%).

As many researchers say, a European identity, if such an identity exists, is to be regarded as work in progress. This in mind, also the EU and national policymakers acknowledge that a European citizenship contributes to a feeling of belonging to a community shared by more than 500 million people. I believe myself that in the long run, despite the fact that there will always be national differences across Europe (which is only a positive thing), a European identity can become something that really unites us Europeans.