Increased focus on employability in academic courses

Geraldine Kendall and Patrick Steel, 21.03.2012
Museum and heritage degrees adapt to new climate
Employability is becoming a more pressing force in academic courses related to museums and heritage, the Museums Association has found.

Recent MA research has shown that, with the cost of undergraduate degrees in England set to triple this year and an increasing scarcity of entry-level jobs, some universities are adapting their BA and MA degrees to better fit employer demands.

Kristin Doern, senior lecturer in heritage and history at Bath Spa University, said consultation with employers had shown that a straight BA in heritage was not enough to secure a job.

Students needed another subject like business, English or history, she said, followed by a “good quality” MA and relevant volunteer work and work experience.

Responding to this, Bath Spa University launched two new heritage courses last year: a heritage BA/BSc combined award and a masters in heritage management that includes dedicated work experience and projects throughout.

“Students have to think about their MA much earlier than they used to,” added Doern. “The feedback from the sector is that if you don’t have an MA then there is no point in applying.”

The University of Leeds, which runs BA and MA courses in history of art with museum studies, works closely with employers to ensure its programmes are "fit for purpose".

Abigail Harrison Moore, deputy head of the university’s fine art school, said: “There is an awareness of the need to ensure that we train staff for the future who have specific collections' knowledge (both collections management skills and actual historical/technical knowledge) as well as management skills.”

She added: “We have not specifically altered anything in relation to recent changes because we are constantly modifying the degrees.

“We are, however, being asked more and more to make clear the 'employability' factors given both the economic circumstances in the UK and the impact of the introduction of fees for undergraduate students.”

Lecturer Graham Black from Nottingham Trent University said: “All universities are looking hard at the issue of employability within their degree courses – whatever the subject – and Trent is no different.”

The trend towards more practical degrees is not new, said Black, but is becoming increasingly widespread. "Across the board, universities are looking at some sort of practical element,” he said.

Black added: “Our MA/PG diploma in museum and heritage management has always been a very practice-driven course with close links in the sector… We change course content on a continuing basis to reflect both what the sector is telling us and how we see the sector changing.”

But Maurice Davies, the MA’s head of communications, said employers' expectations for new entrants to have postgraduate qualifications and extensive practical experience could be hindering diversity in the sector.

Davies said: “One of the things reducing the range of people who enter the museum workforce is museums' expectation that people will have postgraduate qualifications and lots of, often unpaid, work experience.

“There is a view that this is poor recruitment practice, as most entry-level jobs in museums do not need extensive experience or postgraduate qualifications.”

He added: “If museums genuinely want to diversify their workforce they need to take a hard look at what they expect from new entrants.”


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28.03.2012, 15:57
In an increasingly restricted job market, museums need to be clear about the attitudes and skills they are seeking from new recruits. As Vanessa has mentioned, Norfolk Museums is proposing to become a Teaching Museum (as in Teaching Hospitals or Teaching Schools). We will offer paid internships which bridge the skills gap between Universities and museum employment for people with real potential rather than long experience. We will offer interns a structured programme across the museum disciplines. We expect this to be a challenging and rewarding process which is already prompting us to reflect on our own practice and acting as a catalyst for internal professional development.
25.03.2012, 21:02
I have been an employer of staff with heritage based skills for many years and the idea that only an MA will get you a job is utter rubbish. As an employer, firstly you cannot discriminate in this way by law and secondly it is a persons ability to do a job based on a combination of factors, not that they have sat in a lecture theatre for the best part of 4 or 5 years.

I see many post grads having done heritage management courses and they lack the experience that the market needs. Vanessa's approach to on the job training and development is to be congratulated.
MA Member
23.03.2012, 22:20
It looks as if the university sector is finally accepting that some of their so-called vocational courses are not fit for purpose. Now that students have to pay so much and job opportunities are few, the pressure is on the academics to prove they are offering a valuable product rather than engaging in a money making venture at the expense of young people. It's time to shine the spotlight on the ivory towers and carry out a warts and all review of their courses. Ideally the review should be carried out by the Museums Association, SHCG, AIM and anyone else not batting for the unees. Offering dead end BAs and then saying if you do our MA, doors that were previously closed to you, will swing open, is not the best way to prepare people for the world of work and has to end.
23.03.2012, 11:18
In Norfolk we do not expect new staff to have MAs but we do look for the right attitude to delivering a high quality service that meets the needs of our users. I agree that practical experience is often the clincher for people starting a museum career, which is why Norfolk will be introducing a programme of one year paid internships, following a structured curriculum, so that we can share the wide range of skills and experience we represent, while developing the practical skills and understanding that will make people "job ready" at the end of it. This scheme will also enable us to be more proactive in diversifying our workforce.