Employers increasingly recognise what is needed in graduates is not so much technical knowledge, but applied skills, especially skills in critical thinking.
These skills are also said to be important within companies themselves as drivers of employee comprehension and decision making. If we do not have a clear idea of what it is, we can’t teach it.
The report found employers can pay a premium for many enterprise skills.
For example, evidence of problem solving and critical thinking skills resulted in a higher mean salary of A$7,745.
This was sparked by a recent large-scale study – and later a book – using Collegiate Learning Assessment data in the US.
The book provoked widespread interest and media attention in the US, especially on the topic of universities’ failure to teach critical thinking.To counter these trends, a group of politically diverse scholars have set up a Heterodox Academy.They agitate for the importance of teaching students how – not what – to think.Over the years theorists have tried to nail down a definition of critical thinking.These include: “…reflective and reasonable thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.” “…the ability to analyse facts, generate and organise ideas, defend opinions, make comparisons, draw inferences, evaluate arguments and solve problems.” “…an awareness of a set of interrelated critical questions, plus the ability and willingness to ask and answer them at appropriate times.” “…thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking to make your thinking better.” Whatever definition one plumps for, the next question that arises is what are universities doing about teaching it?Universities claim that they impart critical thinking to students as a “graduate attribute”.Look at any carefully-prepared institutional list of hoped-for graduate attributes.And there is no shortage of studies demonstrating that “very few college courses actually improve these skills”. The important thing is that it does need to be taught, and we need to ensure graduates emerge from university being good at it.One thing is certain: beyond vague pronouncements and including “critical thinking” among nebulous lists of unmet or hoped-for graduate attributes, universities should be paying more attention to critical thinking and doing a lot more to cultivate it.It was ranked higher than skills in “innovation” and “application of information technology”.Surprisingly, 92.1% regarded critical thinking as important, but 69.6% of employers regarded higher school entrants to university “deficient” in this essential skill.