How Anglia Ruskin University’s Live Brief modules are enhancing graduate employability

Employability is an individual matter. It requires each student to embrace their professional development and to access the support and opportunities our universities provide. Unfortunately, many students leave it too late, assuming employability is a set of skills they can  acquire at some point before they graduate.

However, academics and other staff responsible for employability know that its development requires steady, deeper, and ongoing engagement by the student. This journey will lead to their ability to reflect on their dispositions and capitals; the qualities that distinguish graduates as being capable, professional people.

Integrating employability into the curriculum

Finding ways to integrate employability within the curriculum is a good way to create deep, rich and lifechanging experiences. This can be achieved through authentic learning activities that engage students in both their subject and their personal and professional development.

Active learning approaches can be designed so that our students make a positive impact on the world around them as they learn, by allowing them to bring their ideas, knowledge and energy to actual current professional and societal challenges.

Following a significant investment in curriculum enhancement in 2019/20, we’ve taken an integrated curriculum approach to developing employability at Anglia Ruskin University. We developed an Active Curriculum Framework which incorporates 6 employability enhancement principles derived from Tomlinson’s 5 graduate capitals (2017)[1] of human, social, cultural, psychological, and identity capital.

Together with the lens of ‘the whole student’, Tomlinson’s capitals convey the essential role of the student in developing their graduate identity, through the way they engage with and reflect upon the learning activities they undertake on their course.

Enter the Live Briefs

To support this we developed Live Brief modules, or equivalent professional experiences, at levels 4 and 5 for every student. This approach ensures that students engage with employability through real-world commissioned challenges set out by employers and other professional partners, based on actual situations they are dealing with in their current business context.

In this way, students address nuanced and sometimes dynamic situations by applying their imagination, research, knowledge and skills to find solutions and ideas for their professional partners.

External partners work with module leaders and one of our centrally located Academic Employability Consultants (AECs) from our Employability Services. The AECs are experienced academics who facilitate the collaborative design of suitable briefs, which are assessed student challenges in the form of authentic projects.

Live briefs are not unique to ARU. Some universities refer to them as live projects. What is remarkable is the wholesale curriculum change and the joined-up development of our professional service infrastructure, which has enabled us to support academics and employers to successfully roll out the model in ways that work for all disciplines.

Live Briefs in action

This year we introduced awards for Live Brief Module Leaders and learnt a lot from the statements submitted by the academics leading the assignments. The following are indicative of how our academics have run with the idea:

In 2022/23, 96 different Live Briefs like these ran in modules across all five ARU faculties, supported by 101 professional partners and benefiting 5,989 students.

All-round engagement with an active curriculum

ARU’s investment in our Live Brief strategy has been considerable. It ensures that students relate the knowledge and skills they are developing to real-world problems. This not only improves engagement with employability, it also reshapes staff and student engagement with the active curriculum itself.

Now two years into our Live Brief approach, our development focus is paying more attention to the course as a whole and how the Live Brief experience flows and feeds into other modules. No longer is employability perceived to be set apart from the curriculum, it is understood as being integral to it, with Live Briefs being a beacon for our graduate capitals approach.

[1] Tomlinson, M. (2017), “Forms of graduate capital and their relationship to graduate employability”, Education + Training, Vol. 59 No. 4, pp. 338-352.

Further reading