The primary measure used in the empirical work of this project will be perceptions of, and changes in graduate research qualities. The terms qualities, attributes, skills, and capabilities need to be unpacked and defined during the project.

Graduate research qualities.

Both industry and society are undergoing massive disruption as a consequence of 4IR. As with previous industrial revolutions, the skills most sought after by employers are changing dramatically (Leopold et al., 2018, World Bank, 2019). As universities adapt to changes in society and industry, many have adopted graduate attributes or qualities lists, particularly within Commonwealth and Asia-Pacific countries. There are wide ranging approaches to developing what are the most appropriate attributes, with many Australian universities basing their lists on generic outcomes of the Higher Education Council of Australia’s 1992 report Achieving quality(Barrie, 2012).

“Graduate attributes are the qualities, skills and understandings a university community
agrees its students should develop during their time with the institution and consequently
shape the contribution they are able to make to their profession and society. They are
qualities that also prepare graduates as agents of social good in an unknown future”

Bowden et al 2000

How universities should plan for the industrial and social changes that are occurring in 4IR, has been critically discussed across the literature (i.e. Aoun, 2017; Davidson, 2017; Gleason, 2018; Penprase, 2018; Seldon, 2018). There are two distinct, yet interrelated challenges for successful transition to 4IR; the changing nature of work as characterised by Industry 4.0; and, the significant ethical consequences of 4IR technologies implemented into our social systems. Yet the connection of 4IR planning to graduate attributes is absent in the literature to date.

View the University of Sydney’s nine undergraduate qualities here. The graduate research qualities list is not yet public facing but is based on the undergraduate list..

Graduate qualities desired by industry

The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts a net job increase as a result of 4IR changes, but it also forecasts a 42% change globally in required job skills between 2018-2022 (Leopold et al., 2018). The over-arching change is the way that humans work in conjunction with machines such as robots and AI powered algorithms, with predictions of machines performing 57% of tasks in partnership with humans by 2022 (Leopold et al., 2018).

Source: World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs Report 2018 Leopold, 2018. Declining skills does not mean they are no longer desirable in candidates, they are just ranked as having less importance than the skills listed under “growing”.

Many reports show a shift in employer sought qualities toward attributes more associated with a liberal education such as creativity, ethical acuity, emotional intelligence, and social influence. Declining skills include: memorisation, mathematics, technology maintenance, and other jobs that are more suited to machines (Leopold et al., 2018). Many of the growing skills are related to perceptions of self agentic power.

“In 4IR it is our human qualities that distinguish
us from machines that will be the most valued.”

Bec Johnson, 2020

Addressing the gap. 

There has been considerable discussion in the higher education sector on how to re-orient graduate research programs to better prepare doctoral students for Industry 4.0, resulting in a diverse new range of higher degree programs in Australia alone (Molla & Cuthbert, 2019). In an important report put out by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and partners, McCarthy and Wienk (2019) highlight the need for graduates of higher degrees to prepare themselves for working outside of academia; thus, requiring industry ready capabilities in addition to traditional academic research skills. The OECD (2019a), notes that doctorate holders are significantly less likely than their predecessors to hold permanent contracts in higher education institutes (HEIs). In a review of Australia’s research training system, the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) advised HEI’s to re-develop doctoral programs to respond to industry changes by addressing skills gaps in graduates (McGagh et al., 2016). Additionally, there has been a shift within the cohort itself, with more doctoral students desiring work outside of the Academy (Anderson, 2019)

Many universities have already taken steps to respond to industry changes. Some have incorporated more coursework and internships, and some have made changes to the way students are examined, placing focus on the student, not just the thesis (Molla & Cuthbert, 2019). Most universities have developed a set of guiding graduate qualities to address shifts in employability, but a question remains.  Are these adjustments in response to changes we can already observe or are they targeted at equipping students with the adaptive skills required of the uncertainty of 4IR?

The fourth industrial revolution is more than just Industry 4.0 though. Perhaps the more critical issue lies in responsible ethical navigation of STS in 4IR. Our graduate researchers need strong 4IR ethical leadership skills to help guide the world to someplace better, not someplace worse. See more on this on the Ethics – Responsible approaches to STS page.

Developing a 4IR graduate qualities list.

Part of this research will be to compare graduate qualities lists between different universities. Some universities have qualities or attribute lists that are common to all students, some have GRE specific ones, and some (particularly in the United States) have not embraced this approach but do have other ways of ensuring graduate preparedness. No university has “bad” lists there are just attributes that are more or less aligned with the skills and qualities required for successful employment and ethical leadership outside the Academy in 4IR.

Graduate attributes of the University of Edinburgh encompass both “Mindsets” and “Skills Groups”.

As an example, the University of Edinburgh created their Graduate Attributes Framework to “help staff and students understand what skills, abilities and mindsets students have opportunity to develop while completing their degree” (2020).

Another example is the University of the South Pacific (USP). The USP is owned by twelve Pacific island countries and has both a Graduate Attributes framework and an overlapping Research Skills Development framework as shown below.

The University of the South Pacific maps a relationship between graduate attributes and “Research Skills Development”. Of note is their focus on Pacific Consciousness and Sustaining Pacific societies which may in part be reflective of the multi-nation-state composition of the university and their front-line impact of global climate change.

Some departments and colleges of universities have developed their own transferable skills lists with recommendations of how to achieve these skills. An example of this can be seen by the University of Cambridge, Department of History and Philosophy of Science. At a whole of university level, Cambridge has developed a Researcher Development Programme.

Cambridge Researcher development framework “maps out what is involved in conducting up-to-date, professional research, in what is an ever more interdisciplinary and internationa context” (Cambridge, retrieved March 2020)

Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) in the United States tend to take a different approach. The Stanford Institute of Design school launched a design thinking framework in 2009 with “a focus on human values (Normand & Anderson, 2017). The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is developing and building a new college named the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing with the purpose of “addressing global opportunities and challenges presented by the ubiquity of computing … and by the rise of artificial intelligence” (MIT, retrieved February 2020).

“For founders of a new college of computing, the human element is paramount” (MIT News, retrieved March 2020)

Many HEIs in Australia have both graduate attributes as well as approaches to facilitating employability skills development for industry. RMIT university in Melbourne is a good example of this with both a graduate attributes list and technology upskilling short courses for Industry 4.0.

In fact, all universities have some way of addressing the issues of changing skills landscape, but this research seeks to develop a set of graduate qualities that is specific to:

  1. Graduate Research Education (i.e. PhD candidature).
  2. The ethical concerns of 4IR.
  3. The skills required of Industry 4.0.

An adequate 4IR list requires internal and external contribution.

Development of a “4IR-ready Graduate Qualities” list will require not only comparisons of existing universities lists, but also cited skills in industry literature from peak bodies such as the World Economic Forum and CSIRO. Further, the developed list will need to address concerns in the literature of ethical applications of 4IR technologies.

There has been much discussion around how HEIs can adapt to graduate preparedness for 4IR, including project based learning (which graduate research already is), and stronger ties between universities and industry (WEF, 2019). Some literature focuses on specific areas such as 4IR skills development for engineering students (Kamaruzaman, 2019). Some literature focuses on broader approaches such as the organisational technologies and structures that can be used to achieve 4IR development (Mllita and Simbarashe, 2019). To date, however, there appears to be a lack of literature that focuses on all of the above in the specific context of GRE.

Pilot 4IR graduate qualities lists will be tested in workshop settings with research students, academics, professional university staff, and industry stakeholders connected to the GRE environment. Once a 4IR-ready list is developed for this research it will be used as a way for participants to report on effectiveness of STS in the GRE environment.

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