Inside Track | Collaboration key for Student Opportunities and Futures strategy

Jane Campbell, Head of Student Careers, and Professor Karen Burland, Academic Lead for Student Opportunities and Futures, explain how their partnership approach benefits staff and students.

Jane Campbell, Head of Student Careers (left), and Professor Karen Burland, Academic Lead for Student Opportunities and Futures (right)

Portraits of Jane Campbell and Professor Karen Burland

A new approach 

Our new Student Futures and Opportunities strategy aims to empower a meaningful and healthy attitude to their futures for all our students. It reflects a holistic approach to enabling and enhancing student opportunity and future prospects through all aspects of the student experience. Our ambition is that throughout their university experience, our students will develop a clear understanding of the necessary values, attributes, behaviours skills and knowledge, that they will require to achieve their individual aspirations. 

It was opportune that the time to refresh our previous employability strategy coincided with the launch of the University of Leeds Strategy 2020-2030: Universal Values, Global Change, which has new and exciting ambitions for students and graduates. We hope our strategy reflects these ambitions. 

The new strategy is informed by research and reflects what we know about students and how they like to learn. Studying at university provides students with an opportunity to work out who they are now and who they want to be in the future. The strategy is closely aligned to the Leeds Curriculum which aims to create learning experiences which help students to develop ‘knowledge and understanding of the major global challenges that are situated within their chosen discipline’ and which equip them with the ‘skills and attributes to make a difference in ways that are meaningful to them’.   

This is particularly important as the world of work is changing rapidly, and notions of linear careers have disappeared.  

We therefore need to support students to work out what a meaningful future looks like for them and prepare them to manage the various and unpredictable paths they may have to navigate. We all know our students have numerous skills and attributes that will help them to achieve their own versions of success, and we all play a role in helping them to recognise the way in which their educational experiences at Leeds are providing the tools they need to work flexibly and adaptably throughout their lives.   

Students at the centre 

What’s distinctive about this strategy is that students and their own ambitions sit at the centre of our employability ecosystem.   

This is emphasised by the fact that, uniquely within the university sector, we’ve worked in partnership to develop a version of the strategy that has been written by students in response to wide consultation with their peers. They also created an associated communications plan to help all students on campus to understand the ways in which we will support them to design and achieve their meaningful futures. The student version of the strategy directly highlights the array of different opportunities through which they can develop their skills and experiences in a way which aligns with their individual needs, both through the curriculum and in their extra-curricular and personal pursuits.   

Equitable access 

One of the things we’re particularly proud of is our principle relating to equitable access and opportunity, which sits at the heart of the strategy. All of our students should be enabled and empowered to seek the future that they want. We will give targeted support to students who need it, but the only way we can be sure we are reaching all students is through the curriculum.  

Curriculum Redefined provides an ideal space for us to work with, and support, schools as they are thinking about their priorities for redefined programmes. The Surfacing Skills project and the Capabilities Framework are important enablers for programme teams as they challenge themselves to consider how they are supporting students to think about, and prepare for, their futures.  

Partnership approach to benefit colleagues 

The partnership approach between careers staff and academics has always underpinned our work, but it’s been really emphasised in this strategy.  

Often in universities, employability sits firmly within the domain of the careers service, but this strategy is everyone’s responsibility; its impact will derive from close partnership and collaboration between academic and professional service colleagues. 

It’s a partnership – we can work together to make a difference for our students. 

We are working hard to link different strands of work that are happening as a result of Curriculum Redefined. Our new SharePoint site provides details about the ways in which different strategies intersect; this is important as a collaborative approach between different strands of activity will enhance the impact of programme design choices on students.  

We are currently developing resources to support colleagues to be creative as they redefine their programmes. The Capabilities Framework team has developed resources, workshops and blog posts, which are designed to inspire and support academic colleagues to be innovative in the ways in which they use the curriculum to provide contextualised learning experiences that support students to consider how they can reach their future goals.  

One example of new work that aims to support students to build their social capital and to feel empowered to think about the future is the new Leeds:Connections Framework.  

The Framework reflects our ambition to expand the pre-existing mentoring offer. Alongside this, we are developing a range of new student-focused resources to help them to learn about how to make the most of going to a careers fair, to ask good questions, to make speculative enquiries to employers or to make the most of a visiting talk. 

We are developing a set of Performance Indicators to support the strategy and to provide colleagues with insights and data relating to students’ journeys throughout their university experiences. This will help us to identify where support is most needed, particularly in terms of the students who are making best use of available resources, and to create interventions where there is little engagement or specific inequalities.  

Find out more 

We’ve launched a new SharePoint site to introduce the strategy and to host information about enabling and connected frameworks, data and resources. This site is designed to provide information, practical support and resources for colleagues. It is evolving and expanding rapidly and currently includes content around the strategies and connected projects, Industrial Advisory Boards and Data Insights.  

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