Developmental capability that mix of skills_ understandings and

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					                                 Reframing the Discourse:
                       a Graduate Capability Framework for Macquarie

Macquarie University staff are already very familiar with the generic skills agenda, having first engaged with the
notion of assisting students to develop such skills in the 1990’s. Since then there have been a number of
attempts to support academics to embed skills development within their programs alongside knowledge
acquisition, with the ultimate goal of producing graduates with particular characteristics (MQ Teaching and
Learning Plan 2006 p.4). Despite such efforts, knowledge development often remains the major goal of the
curriculum, with skills development seen as something to be addressed in addition to real learning. It is not
uncommon therefore for Macquarie programs to be content-driven, incorporating a fragmented approach to skills
development, resulting in the separation of “personal skills development from the acquisition of specialist
knowledge” (Stephenson, 1998, p.7).

Skills, Attributes or Capabilities

Within Australia the terminology underpinning the ‘skills agenda’ is used loosely (Barrie & Jones, 1999), with
the terms generic/core/key/transferable competences, skills, attributes or capabilities used interchangeably
(Jones, 2001). For the purposes of this discussion paper, the following definitions will be used:

Skill                  proficiency or dexterity acquired / developed through training or experience.

Attribute              a quality or characteristic inherent in or ascribed to someone or something.

Learning               the act, process, or experience of gaining knowledge or skill.

Knowledge              acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation.

Competency             the quality of being adequately or well qualified.

Capacity               innate potential for growth, development, or accomplishment.

Capability             the ability to perform actions, the sum of expertise and capacity. “Capability is
                       what we are actually free to be and do.” (Walker, 2006).

The concept of Capability was first developed by an Indian economist, Amartya Sen over 25 years ago. He
proposed that a capability is the capacity or potential to function in a certain way. Hence as John Stephenson
(1998) suggests, capability is a much broader concept than skills and attributes or competencies, rather it is about
‘fitness for specified purpose’. Capable people:
        “…not only know about their specialisms; they also have the confidence to apply their
        knowledge and skills within varied and changing situations and to continue to develop
        their specialist knowledge and skills long after they have left formal education…Taking
        effective and appropriate action within unfamiliar and changing circumstances involves

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          ethics, judgements, the self-confidence to take risks and a commitment to learn from the
          experience.” (ibid, p.3)
Such human beings have the ability to integrate knowledge, skills, personal qualities and understanding in their
personal and professional lives. They are capable human beings and their capability can be observed by their
confidence and ability to:
    •      take effective and appropriate action;
    •      explain what they are about;
    •      live and work effectively with others; and
    •      continue to learn from their experiences as individuals and in associate with others, in a diverse and
           changing society (Stephenson, 1992).
Sen (1979) proposes that a capability also points to potentialities and possibilities rather than just outcomes that
can be defined in advance. Capability therefore, “is what we are actually free to be and do”. (Walker, 2006,

The Capability Approach to Curriculum Renewal
The capability approach foregrounds human development, agency, well-being and freedom, and with respect to
curriculum renewal as proposed here, it poses the following questions (Hinchliffe, ___):

    •      Is higher education only concerned with learning or is it also concerned with developing a range of
           capabilities in its students?
    •      Is there a ‘capability set’ that each student should develop, and / or should students be encouraged to
           develop their own capability set within certain broad guidelines?
If, so:
    •      Can these be developed through teaching and learning and the curriculum?
    •      How do we know that our students have valuable capabilities unless they are given opportunities to
           function and use these capabilities in educational situations?

The first step in answering such questions is to engage the academic community in their discussion. This paper
seeks to provide a background to the capability approach, and stimulate the community to imagine and redefine
the characteristics of its future ‘ideal graduates’. The appendices provide examples of two different lists of
capabilities – one constructed by a theorist in this area, Melanie Walker (Appendix 1), and the second is the
framework (graduate attributes) adopted by the University of Sydney (Appendix 2). Macquarie will develop its
own unique list of capabilities which can then be interpreted with respect to its component knowledge and skills,
and the discipline contexts within which this learning takes place, but these appendices provide a landscape for

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Appendix 1: Sample List of Capabilties (Walker, 2006, pp.128-129)

1. practical reason            Being able to make well-reasoned, informed, critical, independent,
                               intellectually acute, socially responsible, and reflective choices. Being able
                               to construct a personal life project in an uncertain world. Having good

2. educational resilience      Able to navigate study, work and life. Able to negotiate risk, to persevere
                               academically, to be responsive to educational opportunities and adaptive to
                               constraints. Self-reliant. Having aspirations and hopes for a good future.

3. knowledge and               Being able to gain knowledge of a chosen subject – disciplinary and/or
   imagination                 professional – its form of academic inquiry and standards. Being able to use
                               critical thinking and imagination to comprehend the perspectives of multiple
                               others and to form impartial judgements. Being able to debate complex
                               issues. Being able to acquire knowledge for pleasure and personal
                               development, for career and economic opportunities, for political, cultural
                               and social action and participation in the world. Awareness of ethical
                               debates and moral issues. Open-mindedness. Knowledge to understand
                               science and technology in public policy.

4. learning disposition        Being able to have curiosity and a desire for learning. Having confidence in
                               one’s ability to learn. Being an active inquirer.

5. social relations and        Being able to participate in a group for learning, working with others to
   social networks             solve problems and tasks. Being able to work with others to form effective
                               or good groups for collaborative and participatory learning. Being able to
                               form networks of friendship and belonging for learning support and leisure.
                               Mutual trust.

6. respect, dignity and        Being able to have respect for oneself and for and from others, being treated
   recognition                 with dignity, not being diminished or devalued because of one’s gender,
                               social class, religion or race, valuing other languages, other religions and
                               spiritual practices and human diversity. Being able to show empathy,
                               compassion, fairness and generosity, listening to and considering other
                               person’s points of view in dialogue and debate. Being able to act inclusively
                               and being able to respond to human need. Having competence in inter-
                               cultural communication. Having a voice to participate effectively in
                               learning; a voice to speak out, to debate and persuade; to be able to listen.

7. emotional integrity,        Not being subject to anxiety or fear which diminishes learning. Being able
   emotions                    to develop emotions for imagination, understanding, empathy, awareness
                               and discernment.

8. bodily integrity            Safety and freedom from all forms of physical and verbal harassment in the
                               higher education environment.

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Appendix 2: Sample List of Attributes: University of Sydney

The Sydney University graduate attributes policy specifies two
levels of attributes.

There are three overarching graduate attributes which reflect
the research intensive nature of the University, its scholarly
values in relation to research-led teaching, and the place of its
graduates in a global society.–

Scholarship:                               Graduates of the university will have a scholarly attitude to knowledge and
                                           understanding. As scholars, the university’s graduates will be leaders in the
An attitude or stance towards
                                           production of new knowledge and understanding through inquiry, critique and
                                           synthesis. They will be able to apply their knowledge to solve consequential
                                           problems and communicate their knowledge confidently and effectively.

Lifelong Learning:                         Graduates of the university will be lifelong learners committed to and capable
                                           of continuous learning and reflection for the purpose of furthering their
An attitude or stance towards
                                           understanding of the world and their place in it.

Global Citizenship:                        Graduates of the university will be global citizens, who will aspire to
                                           contribute to society in a full and meaningful way through their roles as
An attitude or stance towards
                                           members of local, national and global communities.
the world

These overarching attributes represent combinations of five clusters of more specific attributes, which can be
interpreted or contextualised differently in different disciplinary domains:

Information Literacy                        Graduates will be able to use information effectively in a range of contexts.

Personal and Intellectual                   Graduates will be able to work independently and sustainably, in a way that
Autonomy,                                   is informed by openness, curiosity and a desire to meet new challenges.

Communication                               Graduates will use and value communication as a tool for negotiating and
                                            creating new understanding, interacting with others, and furthering their own

Ethical, Social and                         Graduates will hold personal values and beliefs consistent with their role as
Professional                                responsible members of local, national, international and professional
Understanding                               communities.

Research and Inquiry                        Graduates will be able to create new knowledge and understanding through
                                            the process of research and inquiry.

These are in turn supported by generic foundation skills and abilities underpinned by basic competencies, which
might be interpreted differently in different disciplines and domains.

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