Meaningful work placements and graduate employability have always been an important part of university education and preparation for a professional future in certain disciplines, and are arguably even more so today in a climate of limited employment opportunities, with high university fees and loans positioning students as customers investing in their future careers. Certain subject areas enjoy good relationships with industry, providing industrial placements to give students real-world experience in their future fields, while local companies benefit from the expertise and cutting edge knowledge these students can bring to the workplace. Universities and colleges similarly benefit from this ongoing engagement with industry, ensuring their courses remain relevant and meaningful.
Shrinking university staff numbers have increased workloads, limiting the time staff have to spend assisting individual students in seeking suitable placements and opportunities for work-based learning. In any case, reliance on university staff is not necessarily the best way in which students can prepare themselves for seeking suitable, fulfilling employment on graduation, or establish fruitful relationships with potential employers.
The Sharing Higher Education Data (SHED) project attempts to address these issues through the delivery of a ‘matchmaking’ service for students and employers, which will both facilitate communication between them and enable students to plan their learning paths in the light of the expectations and requirements of their chosen profession. Sample case studies included in the student and employer information sheets about the service help illustrate the range of ways in which SHED can benefit both user groups while increasing interaction between academia and industry.
SHED uses the popular Mahara open source eportfolio tool to allow students to develop their profiles, and, vitally, provides them with strict control over what information is made publicly viewable by potential recruiters. Students can also view common employer search terms within their particular field in order to better understand the employment market in that area and to support the review and revision of their profiles to enhance their employability. The integration of the XCRI information model and specification (eXchanging Course Related Information) provides a common framework for describing and sharing course information, while Leap2A and InterOperability provide support for the sharing of eportfolio and competence information.
As a partnership between the Centre for International ePortfolio Development at the University of Nottingham and Derby College, SHED will also be able to demonstrate how the system can be used across a number of different institutions without compromising privacy while maximising opportunities for placement and project work and professional development. Although small-scale and local to begin with, it is intended that the system be scalable to include many institutions, subject areas and locations, and provide both a valuable service for students and employers and insight into regional and national trends in industry and development.