Donald Sloan, head of the Department of Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism Management at Oxford Brookes University, and chair of Oxford Gastronomica, believes further education should be more flexible to help students develop the skills they need for today.
"We're all aware of the profound impact the recession has had on the UK hospitality industry. While these circumstances are dire, they have brought into sharp focus the dangers of complacency and the crucial role all staff play in delivering a product and levels of service that meet customers' expectations.
Although the consequences of the recession for the university sector may have received less publicity, they are still significant. Most obviously, this year talented graduates have had to fight harder than ever to secure appropriate positions and some have had to accept roles that may not reflect their career aspirations. After three or four years of study, and in many cases accumulating considerable debt, this situation is causing graduates much anxiety.
So how to react? This must provide a reality check to universities. We must constantly reflect on whether we are fulfilling our responsibility to provide students with opportunities for personal and professional development that enable them to realise and fulfil their potential.
Over the past three years, we have been conducting research, funded by the Government, into how best to construct curricula and shape the experience that students have at university to best equip them for their careers. I believe students should have a clear competencies framework, be encouraged to reflect on their development needs, and be provided with challenging and stimulating opportunities for growth.
For example, Oxford Brookes is enhancing student engagement by increasing tailored learning with a mentoring programme that matches final-year undergrads with a senior industry figure who provides ongoing advice and support; an international volunteering programme for students to undertake work in Romania, South Africa and Zambia; and making supervised work experience compulsory for all students.
There is no room for complacency. Universities need to adapt to a fast-changing environment. We must recognise the realities of what it takes to succeed and meet our obligations, especially in tough times, and provide students with a learning environment in which they can thrive."