Kingston University renews calls for urgent action to prepare students for workplace increasingly dominated by AI as it unveils latest Future Skills report

Posted Wednesday 6 December 2023

Kingston University has released a major new report highlighting the urgent need for skills development to be embedded across higher education to better prepare students for the career challenges posed by emerging technology. The launch of Future Skills: The Kingston Approach draws on new YouGov polling commissioned by the University that shows 74 per cent of British business leaders do not believe current graduates are prepared to succeed in a world driven by artificial intelligence (AI).

Unveiled at a major parliamentary event at the House of Commons, the report marks the latest phase of the University’s sector-leading Future Skills campaign, which has been highlighting the economic imperative of skills for innovation and their vital role in driving a thriving economy since its creation in 2021. The campaign has also attracted widespread support from a range of politicians, peers and government policymakers.

The new report sets out a radical blueprint for skills development across the higher education sector and has been backed by a number of leading British businesses, including the IP Group, Cisco, Sparta Global and Salutem Healthcare. It draws on the results of a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 business leaders, 1,000 current full-time students and 2,000 members of the wider public. The findings have revealed:

  • Only 7 per cent of businesses believe university graduates currently joining the workforce are adequately prepared for the impacts of AI.
  • Nearly half of all business leaders (44 per cent) think AI and other emerging technologies will have a moderate or fundamental change on their entire operating model over the next five years;between 2022 and 2023.
  • There has been a 10 per cent increase in businesses saying they want graduates to have digital skills (51 per cent in 2022, 61 per cent in 2023).
  • There is an onus on both businesses and educators to rise to the challenge, with 79 per cent of business leaders believing universities should teach skills for the future as part of their curriculum.

The report launch coincides with the roll out of a new model of education across the University this autumn. This has seen all new undergraduates become the first to benefit from Future Skills modules embedded in their course programmes to equip them with the skills needed for career success.

The University has identified nine attributes it will instill in its future graduates – creative problem solving, digital competency, being enterprising, having a questioning mindset, adaptability, empathy, collaboration, resilience and self-awareness. It aims to ensure all students can demonstrate the full set of attributes in a variety of contexts by the time they graduate, to boost their employability and ability to make a meaningful contribution in their workplaces and wider society.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Steven Spier, said the rise of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies had made the already significant challenge of ensuring students had the skills to succeed in today’s workplace even more urgent. “Young people being educated today will go on to do jobs that don’t yet exist, in sectors that we can barely imagine, using tools entirely alien in the current business environment,” he said.

“It is no longer simply enough for universities to offer narrow, subject-based knowledge to students in preparation for their future careers. Instead, we need to equip our graduates with the skills to navigate a turbulent world that will continue to be disrupted. There is additionally a real need to look at AI from a human-centered perspective as there will be a premium on human skills that cannot be easily replicated, such as creativity and critical thinking.”

To prepare young people for an AI-first world, Kingston University is calling for an overhaul of the national curriculum, so it includes and emphasises teaching of the graduate attributes that are central to its Future Skills programme. The University is also proposing a new framework for the wider higher education sector to embed Future Skills teaching or other similar initiatives.

In addition, it is urging the Department for Education to hand over the remit for higher education teaching and regulation to the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Department for Business and Trade to give universities greater opportunities to innovate.

Speaking ahead of the report launch, Elizabeth Barr, Head of the Cisco Networking Academy for UK and Ireland, said industry-aligned skills were essential for graduates embarking on their careers. With a 68 per cent increase in jobs at the top 100 start-ups and high-growth companies since the pandemic, technical skills were becoming increasingly important, she added. “Making sure graduates possess the in-demand skills employers are looking for ensures they can stand out from the crowd, in turn boosting their career prospects and giving both businesses and graduates the tools they need to succeed,” she said.

Group People Director at IP Group Anthony York said the ability to inquire, critically analyse and approach complex problems with a curious mindset remained human strengths. “As we prepare for a future where AI will be more prevalent in the workplace, fostering the capability to pose insightful questions becomes paramount,” he said. “This skill not only complements the capabilities of AI, but also ensures graduates contribute meaningfully by driving innovation, problem solving and strategic thinking.”

Embedding these Future Skills and competencies at an early stage was key as it allowed graduates entering the workforce to use their academic knowledge effectively during their early careers and also equipped them with the skills to remain relevant in the longer term, Mr York said.

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