Graduates’ Desired Competencies: Some Classical and contemporary Recommendations

Posted on July 27, 2010


Author:  Sanjay Goel,


In the 1850s, a pioneer philosopher of modern higher education, John Henry Newman, wrote a seminal work ‘The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated’ . As part of this work, he included a discourse on ‘Knowledge Viewed In Relation To Professional Skill.’  In this discourse, he insisted that

University training aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life. education should give the ability to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant … to fill any post with credit and to master any subject with facility, to accommodate himself to others … to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them, … to be at home in any society … [to have] common ground with every class … [to know] when to speak and when to be silent … to ask a question pertinently … [to] be able to converse and gain a lesson seasonably ,,, [and to enjoy] the repose of a mind that lives in itself, while it lives in the world.

Franklin Bobbitt posited that because of unpredictability of future roles, the curriculum should insist on general education and developing individuals’ intellect rather than just aiming to train them for specific work. He also insisted that education must aim at developing a respect for many of the classic authors of “great books.”  These thoughts were also resonated in Robbins Report (1963)  that suggested that the purpose of higher education is not simply the “instruction of skills suitable to play a part in the general division of labour” and “the advancement of learning,” but also, “to promote the general powers of the mind … and transmit … a common culture and common standards of citizenship.” Martha Nussbaum   posited that the purpose of liberal education is to cultivate humanity (world citizenship), and she suggested that to achieve this goal, three capacities need to be cultivated. The first among these is capacity for critical self-examination and critical thinking about one’s own culture and traditions through logical reasoning: consistency of reasoning, correctness of facts, and accuracy of judgment. The second capacity is to see oneself as a human being who is bound to all humans with ties of recognition and concern. The third capacity is for narrative imagination: the ability to empathize with others and to put oneself in another’s place through imagination.

The American Association of College and University has declared the following learning outcomes as essential for all college graduates:

  1. Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring
  2. Intellectual and practical skills: Inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, quantitative literacy, information literacy, teamwork and problem solving
  3. Personal and social responsibility through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges: civic knowledge and engagement—local and global, Intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning and action, foundations and skills for lifelong learning
  4. Integrative learning through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems

García-Aracil and Van der Velden  have proposed their competency classification based on six categories of organizational, methodological, participative, specialized, generic, and socio-emotional competencies. The organizational competencies incorporate working under pressure, accuracy, attention to detail, time management, working independently, and the power of concentration. The methodological competencies comprise of foreign language proficiency, computers skills, understanding social, organizational/technical systems, documenting ideas and information, problem-solving ability, analytical competencies, and learning abilities. The participative competencies encompass planning, coordinating and organizing, economic reasoning, negotiating, assertiveness, decisiveness, persistence leadership, as well as taking responsibilities and decisions. The fourth category of specialized competencies essentially means knowledge of field specific theories and methods. The fifth category of generic competencies include broad general knowledge, cross-disciplinary thinking/knowledge, critical thinking, documenting ideas and information, problem-solving ability, and written as well as oral communications skills. The final category of socio-emotional competencies incorporate reflective thinking, assessing one’s own work, economic reasoning,  working in a team, negotiating initiative, assertiveness, decisiveness, persistence,  adaptability, leadership, getting personally involved, taking responsibilities, decisions,  loyalty, integrity, tolerance, appreciating of different point of view.

Their study showed that the best paid jobs required high levels of participative and methodological competencies, the worst paid jobs emphasized on organizational competencies, and high specialized knowledge contribute to higher wages in some professions like medical science, mathematics (including computing), and engineering. They finally concluded that new emerging work situations require individuals with enhanced levels of participative, methodological, and socio-emotional competencies.

UK based higher education consortium, SEEC has defined   credit level descriptors for undergraduate, masters, as well as doctoral programs. The descriptors provide an indicative framework for credit-rating and level-setting, and also represent the benchmarking of members’  existing practice. In July 2010, SEEC published a revised version [6] of these descriptors in terms of following categories:

  1. Setting – i. Operational context, ii. Autonomy and responsibility for actions
  2. Knowledge and Understanding
  3. Cognitive skills – i. Conceptualization and Critical Thinking, ii. Problem Solving, Research and Enquiry, iii. Synthesis and Creativity, iv. Analysis and evaluation
  4. Performance and practice – i. Adaptation to Context, ii.  Performance, iii. Team and organizational working, iv. Ethical awareness and application
  5. Personal and enabling skills – i. Personal evaluation and development, ii. Interpersonal and communication skills.

SEEC  descriptors draw  clear distinctions between different levels of higher education programs (level 3,  i.e.,  subdegree level to level 8,  i.e,  doctoral level) wrt above categories.



1. Engineering Graduates’ Desired Competencies: Recommendations by Accreditation Boards of Some Countries

2. Computing Graduates’ Desired Competencies: Some Professional Recommendations






Keywords: Software Engineering Education, Computing Education, Computer Science Education, Engineering Education, Information Technology Education, Information Systems Education, College Education, Higher Education, Professional Education


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Some Valuable Comments

1.  Ajit Jhangiani • Very good and relevant issue. To analyze, lets breakdown the stakeholders by groups. To the bureaucrats and politicians it means more laws and regulations, especially when something goes wrong, to the parents it means that the child can now get a good job, to the student it means that they have ‘arrived’ someplace and accomplished a significant feat, to the country as a whole do these graduates contribute anything significant to the national priorities, to corporates was the education relevant to corporate needs or do they have to send another year being retrained. My angle, from the point of view of an enterprsie strategist, unless all stakholders first sit together and pen down two things, firstly a shared vision and how to measure success, and secondly how we stand vis a vis our competitors such as MIT and others, we shall always be floating in a questionable space.

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