“They’re, Their, There” – so true… build the skills!

The UK sector should tackle undergraduates’ poor written English via a nationally prescribed update of the US model, urges Alex Baratta

Getting undergraduates to enjoy academic writing is a bit like getting a child to eat liver. First-year university students are usually more interested in content-based classes than skills-based instruction. But while they may see academic writing as boring, it is nonetheless a valuable and necessary skill for them to master, as the academic essay is still one of the main tools of their assessment.

Recent surveys have shown that employers consider proficiency in speaking and writing to be the most desirable skills for graduates to possess. A 2008 report for the Council for Industry and Higher Education, Graduate Employability: What Do Employers Think and Want?, found that 86 per cent of employers consider good communication skills to be important, yet many are dissatisfied with graduates’ ability to express themselves effectively.

It is all too often the case that students enter the job market armed with a BA degree, but still unable to distinguish between “its” and “it’s”, not to mention “there”, “their” and “they’re”. While relatively “minor” errors such as these may not prevent an essay being awarded a 2:2, the possibility remains that the same errors in the context of a cover letter could result in being passed over for a job interview, especially in the current job climate.

Read full story in Times Higher Education, and see how we’re planning to tackle this in Media Studies at the University of Winchester. I am also working on a project called “SkillsNet” which is expected to go live (largely internally) before the academic year commences – this will make skills-based information much easier to access for students, 24-7 online, rather than during the working day – the students are really enthusiastic about this idea.

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