Graduate attributes: misunderstood, maligned or mismanaged? An integrative literature review
Wednesday 3 July: 5:30pm – 7:00pm, poster session
The University of Sydney, Australia
Graduate attributes (GAs), their definition and place within higher education, is a maturing field, shifting from definitional issues to institutional policy and implementation matters. This is caused in part by government agendas and regulatory demands, with conversation shifting from ‘what’ to ‘how’. The need to provide evidence of attainment and prepare graduates for an evolving world of work ensures GAs remain firmly in policy discourse. Past research has developed thinking, but to date no study exists that seeks to methodically identify, synthesise and organise research conducted on this important issue.
This integrative literature review searched 3 major databases (primary search terms: graduate attributes, graduate qualities, graduate outcomes) resulting in n=1,455 results (2008 and 2018). A staged review was conducted examining each article’s title, keywords and abstract, reducing the relevant body of work to n=51. A full review was completed, resulting in n=32 articles for inclusion that maintained a significant focus on attributes within the broader university context (not those taking a discipline specific focus). The review categorized research into key themes allowing for the synthesis of findings and identification of trends and opportunities.
The results demonstrate how research has developed from understanding GAs as an isolated concept, to conceptualising GAs as a component of employability. Definitional confusion still remains from stakeholders; critically the voices of employers, students and policy makers are underrepresented. Overcoming the complexities of implementing GAs and developing a robust policy environment that isn’t reliant on a ‘top-down’ management approach remains critical. This complexity is compounded by findings that formal assessment and integration of attributes into curriculum remains integral, a process hampered by inconsistent approaches and attitudes. This review is important to understanding the use of GAs and provides both educators and policy makers an insight into the current state of research in the field.