‘How can English Studies overcome instrumentalism when it comes to the employability agenda? Is it possible to move beyond having to prove that our degrees are good value because they lead to good careers? Can we work together with students to consider how to live ‘good lives’ through education?’
On the 13th and 14th of April, I attended my first ever University English Annual General Meeting & Heads of English networking event at the University of Lancaster. The two-day meeting had everything: innovative practices in learning, teaching and assessment of English at University level, discussion of hiring and promotion practices in the sector, surviving your first year as Head of Department, recent A Level reforms, and of course TEF and REF 2021.
I found the panel on Employability really interesting, as it showcased some exciting and innovative ways of connecting students with the wider world.
Dr Fiona Douglas (Leeds) talked about the great (but also tricky to organise) module on Heritage & Dialect that takes students outside the classroom and into local museums and blends teaching, research and public engagement.
Dr Clare Egan (Lancaster) emphasised the importance of treating degrees not as tools to get a job but as central to developing skills for everything we are doing. She showed the importance of problem-solving learning, moving from ‘careers talks’ to ‘career-focused problem solving’, helping students develop critical reflection and self awareness, and discussed modules that fully integrate work in the field: local schools, arts organisations etc.
Yvonne Battle-Felton, co-founder of Stories at The Storey (true story open mic night) and North West Lit Salon and Creative Writing PhD spoke about the PhD creative writing student as entrepreneur.
We are already incorporating many of these ideas in the BA English at Middlesex. To name just a few examples:
- First-year modules, such as Global Englishes, include problem-solving based learning. Students have to work in groups to design and carry out an experiment testing a hypothesis. Through their empirical projects, they develop high level research skills but, perhaps more crucially, really valuable interpersonal, negotiation, leadership and teamworking skills.
- Our students develop employability skills by mentoring local 6th form college students in producing a literary magazine, Haringey Unchained.
- Also, from 2018-19 we will extend students’ opportunities to volunteer at local schools, act as ambassadors for English and make a positive impact to their communities through the two third-year modules ‘Work Placement’ and ‘Teaching Englishes’.
- Students get to work with acclaimed writers and practitioners of a range of genres. These include their own tutors but also guest speakers. For example this year, second year BA English students invited and interviewed Ian McGuire, author of the celebrated novel and soon-to-be BBC series The North Water.
- From 2018, BA English students will be involved in the organisation of the 2019 North London Story Festival.