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Adult Education and Work Contexts: International Perspectives and Challenges

Comparative Perspectives from the 2017 Würzburg Winter School


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer and Monica Fedeli

Adult education has deep connections with employment contexts. This volume discusses interrelations within transnational contexts studied during the Würzburg Winter School on Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning (COMPALL). The book shows that adult education and work contexts are influenced by international and transnational developments. The findings are presented in three chapters: Lifelong Learning Policies Targeting Employment Contexts; Transnational Perspectives on Lifelong Learning Policies; Employment Perspectives and Professionalisation in Adult Education.

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The development of employability skills in higher education curricula: A transnational comparison (Gaia Gioli / Nicoletta Tomei / Ashok Kumar / Sunita Sijwali)

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Gaia Gioli, Nicoletta Tomei, Ashok Kumar & Sunita Sijwali1

The development of employability skills in higher education curricula: A transnational comparison

Abstract: After defining employability and employability models with the aim of creating a theoretical framework for the following juxtaposition, the paper presents the strategies and practices developed at a higher education level in Italy and India for supporting the development of employability skills in young adults enrolled in master’s degree courses in education.

Definition of employability and employability models

Work and the future of work are very fascinating subjects that play a central role in our life and our life plans. Indeed, work not only represents a tool to secure financial and economic independence from the home family, it is also a means to become active citizens, to be included and play a role in civil society as individuals. Therefore, it is very important that higher education reflects the profound changes affecting the world of work when planning the curricula that will help educate the future workforce.

Universities must tune an increasing proportion of their activity into the needs of students whose employability is at stake, and towards the needs of society at large. (World Employment Confederation, 2015, p. 35)

But what do we mean by the future of work, and how does it affect young people’s employability?

According to the World Economic Forum, the ‘future of work’ represents all the changes occurring in the world of work, in terms of work capabilities, contracts, organisation, and regulations due to economic and technological change. ← 161 | 162 →

[…] many occupations will undergo a fundamental transformation. They will change the skill sets required in both old and new occupations in most industries and transform how and where people work, leading to new management and regulatory challenges. (World Economic Forum, 2016, n. p.)

But what are the skills needs of employers when hiring a graduate? We cannot answer this question without considering that employers look for applicants with two skill sets: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills (or technical skills, discipline-specific skills) can change according to the economic field and specific work area, whereas soft skills (or common skills) are generally considered transversal or common to many different fields and workplaces. Moreover, we should reflect on the fact that no single word could summarise the things employers seek in a graduate. Some authors refer to assets, achievements, or attributes, although none of these terms really capture the hard work that graduates do to acquire what employers want. As suggested by Harvey and Knight (2003, p. 6), ‘[i]t is important to see attribute development as a process of learning and to insist that attributes are not collected like stamps’. Other researchers tried to summarise the main attributes/skills/assets as follows.

Harvey, Moon, and Geall (1997) stress the attention on willingness to learn, self-management skills, adaptability, communication skills, team-working and interpersonal skills.

Stephenson and Yorke (1998) stress oral communication, workload management, team working, managerial skills, problem analysis, critical analysis, group problem-solving, stress resistance, commitment, flexibility, dependability, imagination/creativity, and willingness to learn.

Brennan, Johnston, Little, Shah, and Woodley (2001) highlight the importance of the ability to work independently, under pressure, oral communication skills, accuracy, attention to details, time management, adaptability, team working, taking responsibility and decisions, planning co-ordinating and organising.

It is difficult to identify a specific set that is common at a global level, yet multiple studies in the last decades have tried to do so. Most of them answered the question by linking the concept and definition of soft skills to that of employability and higher education, seeing it as the place to train graduates for future life from an academic perspective.

The term ‘employability’ has been extensively investigated in the past six decades, starting with the Robbins report (1963), which identified employability as one of the main goals of higher education institutions. From that moment on, the term had great diffusion and success, as it is very flexible. For example, it can be re-read through the lens of the capability approach, the lifecycle approach (Günter ← 162 | 163 → & Markowitsch, 2010), entrepreneurship (Hall, 1996), or it can be applied to the context of higher education (Yorke, 2006). As a pedagogically oriented category, it was investigated by pedagogues and experts, especially from the UK (the most important publications are those published by the Higher Education Academy and ESECT, for example: Harvey, Locke, & Morey, 2002; Harvey & Knight, 2003; Pegg, Waldock, Hendy-Isaac, & Lawton, 2012; Knight & Yorke, 2004; Yorke & Knight, 2006), who linked the term to the preparation of the transition from study to work, thus with the concept of placement. In this way, the term has had far-reaching consequences on the higher education system at a global level. The aim has been to modify higher education (Yorke, 2006; Boffo, Del Gobbo, Gioli, & Torlone, 2017) in order to meet the needs of the labour market and the individual. In a certain way, to reflect on employability is to reflect on the ability of higher education to create educational paths that can ‘build’ professionals, their knowledge, and skills.

In the context of higher education, two authors must be mentioned: Peter Knight and Mantz Yorke, who spread a new way of studying employability and curricula and skills. Indeed, they were the first researchers who read curricula as a tool for the acquisition of employability and employability skills suitable for the labour market.

What do we mean by employability? The definitions of employability can be organised in two main groups. The first one relates to the abilities of students to get, retain and develop these employability skills on a job after graduation (Hillage & Pollard, 1998, p. 3). The second one defines employability as:

A set of […] skills, understanding and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce and the economy. (Yorke & Knight, 2006, p. 3)

From this definition, it is particularly clear how the professional success of graduates in terms of employment is linked with the curricular activities undertaken during the studies, and how learning is intertwined with knowledge and all the skills that the labour market in a given world region and economic sector is looking for today and will be looking for in the longer term. As a matter of fact, we can assume that this outlook reflects the idea that higher education pays attention to the full development of human beings, as individuals and as future workers, following the lifecycle approach. Indeed, the labour market, social and cultural norms, and the economic situation can deeply affect graduates’ current and future employment (Harvey, Locke,& Morey, 2002; Pegg et al., 2012, p. 7).

The difference between the two groups of definitions is clear. The first definition stresses the career choice that students make after graduation and the career they will choose. ← 163 | 164 →

The second definition has been implemented in the last twenty years in the UK with the involvement of businesses and employers in the construction of professional profiles of graduates. This approach – that we could call much more realistic than the first one –is intertwined with the ability of developing all those ‘assets’ (skills, knowledge, and personal attributes, such as values) that can support employment. These can be better explained by many important employability models that consider skills the basis of employability.

One of these models is the graduate employability model (Fig. 1) developed by Harvey, Locke, and Morey (2002), which focuses on the link between internal and external factors, that is, all the opportunities offered by higher education and the labour market for the development of employability, such as extracurricular experiences that can foster the acquisition of employability attributes, self-promotional skills, and willingness to self-development through work experience. This model is based on the involvement of engagement, pedagogy, self-reflection, and articulation as leading categories. The soft skills that are considered most important in this model are: self-promotional skills, the willingness to develop employability attributes, and the ability to reflect on them.

Figure 1: Graduate employability model.


Source: Harvey, Locke,& Morey (2002, p. 4) ← 164 | 165 →

Shortly afterwards, the Higher Education Academy developed the USEM model (Fig. 2). In particular, the USEM model was developed by Knight and Yorke in 2004 and sees employability as the result of the interaction of ‘four broad and inter-related elements’: Understanding, Skilful practice, Efficacy beliefs, and Metacognition (Knight & Yorke, 2004, p. 37).

Figure 2: USEM model.


Source: Yorke & Knight (2006, p. 4)

These categories are not only connected to the skills and knowledge that young people can acquire through curricular and extracurricular activities, they also represent the ability of academia to renew itself by offering students opportunities to develop self-reflectiveness and self-consciousness regarding their personal and professional identity, to develop a critical sense (metacognition), to acquire generic (skilful practice) and specific skills necessary for their future work and to be conscious of them (understanding), to guide themselves through life, and to learn how to learn and be able to read the contexts of life, situations, and events (efficacy beliefs) (Yorke & Knight, 2006, p. 38).

The USEM model was created from empirical data to develop a commonly shared taxonomy in the scientific community. For this reason, it became the first famous employability model. Yet it was not the only one. Other important models ← 165 | 166 → are the DOTS model2 (Watts, 2006) and the CareerEDGE framework3 (Pool & Sewell, 2007). The DOTS model stresses the attention on Self-awareness (the ability to identify and articulate motivations, skills, and personality as they affect career plans). Opportunity awareness (knowledge of opportunities and the ability to research these), Decision learning (being able to weigh personal factors to make a sound plan), and Transition skills (understanding of how to seek and secure opportunities) (Watts, 2006). The CareerEDGE framework stresses Career development learning, Experience (work and life), Degree subject, knowledge, understanding & skills, Generic skills, and Emotional intelligence (Pool & Sewell, 2007).

The conception of employability that underlies the above-mentioned models is very rich from a pedagogical perspective and can be thought of as the fundamental category to be used to rethink the structure of a study curriculum. Indeed, it is linked to a didactical approach and a renewal of higher education that sees all elements and persons working together towards the common goal of students’ employability and the development of their skills.

According to Fallows and Steven (2000, p. 75), ‘the academic curriculum is essentially a vehicle through which other attributes are delivered’, and it includes information, discipline-specific, and generic skills. Generic (or soft) skills are different from discipline-specific skills because they can change according to the nature of the job and the specific workplace. Fallows and Steven also suggest that the modern workplace is so varied and constantly changing that academic education cannot hope to impact job-specific skills but should instead support the acquisition of soft skills and teach students how to learn new skills.

In the process, the institutional, organisational, and human dimensions of higher education should be involved. In the words of Knight and Yorke (2004, p. 269):

Program leaders and designers should be asking whether the approach to teaching and assessment is

consistent with a rounded conception of employability;

structured to encourage progressively higher levels of autonomy;

appropriately balanced throughout the program (across contemporaneous units of study and across time);

allowing those skills and qualities (that usually need longer than a study-unit to develop) the opportunity to grow progressively; ← 166 | 167 →

involving a variety of pedagogic methods and styles;

encouraging deep rather than surface learning (or, put another way, weighting quality of learning more heavily than quantity of learning);

valuing collaboration in learning for what it can offer to employability (but taking care to deal appropriately with assessment issues);

providing plenty of feedback in a manner designed to enhance the capacity for self-assessment and to lead to enhanced future performance; and

helping students to become aware of, and document (perhaps via portfolios), what they have achieved during their period of time in higher education.

Regardless the adopted model, employability is always interconnected with generic/soft and specific/hard skills. In particular, looking at the soft skills, we can affirm that they may change according to context. It may occur that the most relevant soft skills for the care and education professions are different in India and Italy because of the cultural, economic, social, and political context. Thus, it may happen that the adoption of an employability model could differ from one country to another. So, which are the recurrent employability skills embedded into the higher education curricula?

The case study of Italy

Soft skills in Italy

In Italy, the debate on soft skills has gained relevance in the wake of some international publications. Among them, the most important are Life Skills Education for Children and Adolescents in School, issued by the World Health Organisation (World Health Organisation, 1993), and the Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning (European Commission, 2016).

At first, the recommendations contained in these documents were adopted by the school system, which in the 1990s started to set up training interventions on the basis of the concept of life skills. According to the above-mentioned WHO document, life skills are ‘abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life’ (p. 1). These abilities play an important role in the broader category of psychosocial competence, which consists in the capacity to ‘maintain a state of mental well-being and to demonstrate this […] while interacting with others, his/her cultures and environments’ (p. 1). The interventions inspired by this approach interpret life skills education as a tool for the promotion of physical, mental, and social health, which are able to influence behaviours ‘in particular at a time when behaviours are more and more implicated as source of health problems’ (p. 1). ← 167 | 168 →

Life skills education developed acknowledging that prevention strategies based on control and repression of ‘at risk’ behaviours are a failure. Although it failed to integrate soft skills development into standard school activities, life skill education contributed to stimulating the implementation of projects able to develop skills which cross disciplinary fields and to expand the school curriculum.

After this first season of experimentation, the efforts for integrating soft skills into the school curriculum took advantages from the European Reference Framework presented by the above-mentioned recommendation of 18 December 2006. In fact, this recommendation, which ‘identifies and defines the key competences necessary for personal fulfilment, active citizenship, social cohesion and employability in the knowledge society’ (EPC 2006, p. 1 annex), determined the issue of Ministerial Decree n. 139 on 22 August 2007 by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (Ministero dell’istruzione, dell’università e della ricerca (MIUR), 2007). This Decree, aiming to govern the field of mandatory education, states that the final diplomas of upper secondary school have to certify ‘core competences related to language, STEM and history curriculum as well as specific citizenship skills which compose, together, the key competences for lifelong learning according to the Italian national strategies’ (MIUR, 2007, p. 1 annex 1).

Table 1: Soft skills integrated into the Italian school curriculum as recommend by national and international documents.

Life Skills (WHO, 1993)Key Competences (EPC, 2006)Citizenship Skills (MIUR, 2007)
Problem-solvingCommunication in the mother tongueLearning to learn
Critical and creative thinkingCommunication in foreign languagesProjecting
Effective communicationMathematical competence and basic competences in science and technologyCommunicating
EmpathyDigital competenceCollaborating and participating
Emotional managementLearning to learnAutonomous and responsible acting
Stress managementSocial and civic competencesProblem-solving
Personal efficacySense of initiative and entrepreneurshipLinking and identifying connections between concepts and situations
Social efficacyCultural awareness and expressionGetting and interpreting information

Source: Authors’ own ← 168 | 169 →

Besides the speculation on the certification of competences in the school system, the higher education sector has developed its own understanding of the acquisition of soft skills across tertiary study paths (Fondazione CRUI, 2016) This understanding is closely linked to the implementation of the Bologna Process. The term ‘Bologna Process’ refers to the international reform process through which European Union Member States try to harmonise national higher education systems in order to promote mobility through a better understanding and comparison of the different qualifications issued in each country (European Commission, 2016).

In 2005, this process of harmonisation, started in 1988 with the elaboration of the Magna Charta Universitatum, led to the adoption of the ‘Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area – QF for the EHEA’ (Bologna Follow-up Group, 2005). This framework proposed to describe the qualifications issued for each cycle by each state, with reference to the number of ECTS credits and to the learning outcomes that characterise each qualification. In particular, the description of the learning outcomes of bachelor’s and master’s programmes was carried out using some shared descriptors. These descriptors, known as Dublin descriptors (named after the city in which they were finally defined), do not refer to any disciplinary field or professional area in particular and are built on the following elements:

knowledge and understanding;

applying knowledge and understanding;

making judgements;

communication skills;

learning skills.

(Bologna Working Group on Qualifications Frameworks, 2005)

Soft skills in the curriculum of Italian master’s programmes in adult and continuing education

According to the European procedure, and in consideration of the asset of the Italian higher education system after the university reform started in 1999, the Italian Qualification Framework, issued in 2010, states that, at the end of the second cycle of higher education, all students have to:

demonstrate knowledge and understanding of their own study field by using advanced references, formulating hypotheses, and applying original ideas in a research context; ← 169 | 170 →

apply their knowledge and understanding to their own professional activities, conceptualizing and solving unfamiliar problems in disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields;

collect, interpret, and integrate data and information by creating assessments which reflect social and ethical concerns linked to the application of their knowledge;

communicate in a clear manner their conclusions and their underlying rationale to specialised and non-specialised audiences;

develop their learning abilities in order to be able to continuously study in a self-directed and autonomous way.

(MIUR, 2011)

Beside describing the soft skills common to all master’s programmes, the Dublin descriptors also provide the basis through which each university defines the learning outcomes that each student has to reach according to the professional profile focused by the programme he or she is attending. Regarding the master’s programmes in adult and continuing education in Italy, the analysis of the official documents published on the ministerial web portal ‘Universitaly’ highlights some important information.

In the academic year 2016/17, eleven master’s programmes in adult and continuing education were offered at the national level. They are evenly distributed across the country and, aside from local specifications, generally aim to develop professionals able to manage, plan, implement, and evaluate educational and training actions in the field of adult and continuing education and human resource management, including development and career guidance.

A deeper look into the contents of each programme shows that the curricula are composed of different kinds of courses, laboratories, extracurricular activities (in particular internships), and research activities mostly related to pedagogical, psychological and sociological knowledge. Courses in the humanities and technology make up the rest (Fig. 3).

The consistent weight given to courses in terms of ECTS points suggests that many of the soft skills linked to the specific professional profiles focused by the different master’s programmes are being developed as part of the coursework. However, the analysis of the syllabus of different courses shows that only rarely are soft skills explicitly mentioned as expected learning outcomes. ← 170 | 171 →

Figure 3: ECTS distribution in Italian master’s programmes in adult and continuing education.


Source: Authors’ compilation of Ministerial data from

Including information about the goals of laboratories, internships, and research activities into the analysis confirms that soft skills are usually developed informally. Nevertheless, as stated by a recent publication, it is not uncommon to couple these informal ways of developing soft skills with reflective practices that help students to take advantage of experiential and work-related learning activities (Boffo, Fedeli, Lo Presti, Melacarne, & Vianello, 2017).

To find examples of training activities that include soft skills as expected learning outcomes, it is more appropriate to consider the integrative training offers provided by guidance, tutoring, and placement services. Indeed, these services often seem to provide the opportunity to be trained for the development of the specific soft skills identified by partner institutions or by students themselves. In order to illustrate the mechanisms through which some of these services work, looking at the experience of the University of Florence could be very useful. The career service of this university has in fact promoted the establishment of a ‘Light Assessment Centre’ for the development of soft skills based on a survey which asked local human resources managers about the most relevant soft skills for the university graduates they are hiring (Boffo, 2018). ← 171 | 172 →

Given the almost complete lack of explicit reference to soft skills in the institutional documents of the master’s programmes in adult and continuing education, it is nearly impossible to guess which might be relevant for graduates’ transitions into the labour market without referring to specific research projects.

In this perspective, the analysis performed in the framework of the international research project ‘Skills and Labour Market to Raise Youth Employment’ (Project Number: 527690-LLP-1–2012-1-PT-LEONARDO-LMP) can be helpful for identifying the essential soft skills that help adult education professionals find and keep a job in the context of the Italian social economy. Analysing materials gathered in the two years of research, the project states in fact that, even if ‘the demand for professional profiles and workers’ competences is conditioned by the basic functions performed by the organisation in question’ (p. 98), the demand for transversal competences and soft skills corresponds to the necessity of combining technical skills with 1) personal qualities, 2) communication skills, and 3) interpersonal skills (p. 106) (see Table 2).

Table 2: The demand for soft skills for the future that emerged from the SALM research based on the Italian sample.

1.  Personal qualities


Sense of responsibility



Emergency management

Being patient

Strategic thinking
2.  Communication skills



Effective communication with external environment
3.  Interpersonal skills


Personal development

Conflict management

Peer cooperation

Source: Boffo, Federighi, & Torlone (2015, p. 107) ← 172 | 173 →

The case study of India

Soft skills approach in India

A shortage of skills is one of the major constraints to continuous economic growth in India (International Labour Organisation, 2007). On the basis of these studies and observations, it has been found that in the sector of adult education, the concept of soft skills is neglected in India. Most of the government policies and documents emphasised the hard skills (NPSD, 2009), so it seemed that adult or youth employability is less affected due to the lower orientation towards soft skills and training in the sector of adult education.

It has been observed that in the Indian context, soft skills are considered only in the private sector or in multi-national companies such as BPOs, Deloite, and others. These multi-national companies effectively provide in-service training and pre-service training to their employees. Furthermore, it has also been observed on the basis of discussions with expert in adult education in India that, based on their observations, there is no need to provide training to adults because they have more experience and because of that experience, they can overcome all problems. Therefore, it has been found that if there were less training of soft skills, the result would be less employability in the sector of adult education in India (Indian policies, reviews).

Soft skills are ‘people skills’ consisting of personal attributes that drive an individual’s potential for sustained growth and enhance their social interactions, job performance, and career prospects (Robbins & Hunsaker, 1996).

Soft skills have been defined as ‘the cluster of personality traits, social graces, language skills, friendliness, and optimism that mark each of us in varying degrees’ (Career Opportunities News, 2002).

Fundamental soft skills are: self-awareness and self-esteem, critical thinking skills, decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, empathy, coping with emotions, handling peer pressure, and negotiation skills (WHO, 1997).

The author personally observed that government documents and policies are focused on hard skills in the adult education sector, but it was also evident that the government makes the policy for adults only with regard to hard skills.

Based on field observations and interviews conducted with ten adult employees and with the various social workers, policy makers, and experts, it has been said that there is no need for adults to acquire soft skills because they already have sufficient knowledge and experience to deal with personal problems and they can easily communicate with colleagues. The government is making a very strong ← 173 | 174 → initiative promoting hard skills for adults in the organised and unorganised sectors, including Gender Resource Centres (GRCs) and Jan Shikshan Sansthans (JSSs). Even its new education policy, the government is not taking any initiative towards soft skills (National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986).

Agencies of soft skills and role of higher education in this context

After reviewing the official policies, we find that there is no formal criterion for soft skills training. Due to that, the higher education is not taking any initiative for soft skills, so employability in the sector of adult education is not up to the mark.

There are some organised and unorganised agencies providing hard skills to the sector of adult education, such as Gender Resource Centres (GRCs) and Jan Shikshan Sansthans (JSSs). These agencies provide hard skills such as tailoring, beautification, computer learning, documentation, and others.

The Indian higher education system and master’s degree curricula in education

The term ‘higher education’ in India refers to post-secondary education (10+2), beginning after 10 years of primary and secondary education and 2 years of senior secondary or tertiary-level education. Higher education degrees include bachelor’s degrees, post-graduate degrees, and research degrees (M.Phil and PhD). Higher education in India holds a significant place in the country’s educational process. Since independence, higher education has been regarded as one of the important tools for national development, as it has the important task of preparing leaders for different paths of life, such as social, intellectual, political, cultural, scientific and technological careers. It serves to understand life and to enlighten the people (Gandhi, 2013, p. 63).

The higher education system in India is experiencing a transition phase from a conventional education system, or teacher-centred mode of instruction, to a progressive education system that is more student-centred and employment-oriented (University Grants Commission, 2012).

Various initiatives and transformations have taken place, designed to keep pace with growing industry demands and the global positioning of the Indian economy. India is the single largest provider of global talent, with one in four graduates in the world being a product of the Indian system (Ernst& Young, 2013, p. 8). The Indian education system focuses almost exclusively on technical knowledge while ignoring critical areas like industry exposure and soft skills development (Padhi, 2014, p. 3). As a matter of fact, the ‘freshers’ (those who do not have any work experience, or who have just finished their professional degrees) face career ← 174 | 175 → limitations due to their limited English language capabilities, weak communication skills, and poor interpersonal skills (Askari, 2010, p. 2).

Employability is a very crucial aspect of the higher education system. The need of the hour is to take serious consideration of the career paths to help students acquire the skills demanded by the labour market, such as analytical thinking skills, communication skills, presentation skills, teamwork skills, and IT skills (Public & Social Policies Management Group & YES Bank, 2014, p. 12). Various recommendations from the National Knowledge Commission Report also point out the lack of spoken and written English skills. English is the primary language of teaching and learning in all higher education courses in India, meaning that a lack of English skills becomes a serious obstacle to accessing resources and entering the job market (National Knowledge Commission Report to the Nation 2006–2009, p. 49). The Indian higher education system has gone through many reforms and transformations in order to raise the quality of education.

Higher education institutions across the globe are implementing a system of credits, including the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) in Europe and the National Qualifications Framework in Australia.

The University Grants Commission (UGC), India’s leading body in higher education, which is responsible for coordination, determination, and maintenance of standards and the release of grants, observed in 2014 that in spite of the large number of public and private educational institutions engaged in imparting education in India, the present education system produces young minds lacking knowledge, confidence, values, and skills. One reason might be the complete lack of relationships between education, employment, and skill development in he conventional education system (UGC, 2009).

The University Grants Commission argued that there is need to allow for more flexibility in the education system. Hence, with a view to quality in higher education, the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2015 implemented the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) for graduate/postgraduate diplomas and certificate programmes at the higher education level.

Choice Based Credit System means that students (undergraduate, postgraduate, diploma and certificate courses) have the option to choose from the prescribed courses, including core, elective, soft skill, or minor courses. Under this scheme, students can take courses of their choice, learn at their own pace, take additional courses, and acquire more than the required credits. This system facilitates student mobility across educational institutions inside and outside of India. Depending on their interests and aims, students can choose interdisciplinary, intra-disciplinary, and skill-based courses (especially soft skill-oriented courses). So the CBCS not ← 175 | 176 → only offers opportunities and avenues to learn core subjects but also to explore additional avenues of learning beyond the core subjects for individual holistic development (UGC, 2015, pp. 5–7). Holistic development enables individuals to acquire formal qualifications along with soft skills, contributing to their employability and employment.

The University Grants Commission has emphasised ability enhancement courses (AEC) in addition to core courses under the Choice Based Credit System. Under the CBCS system, the available courses in each semester in a particular discipline consist of core courses, elective courses, and ability enhancement courses:

1) Core courses are to be offered in every semester and are compulsory for students enrolled in a given study programme.

2) Elective courses are specialised or advanced or supportive to the discipline/subject of study enhancing students’ proficiency/skills.

3) Ability enhancement courses may be of two kinds: ability enhancement compulsory courses (AECC) and skill enhancement courses (SEC). AECC are courses based on content that leads to knowledge enhancement. These are mandatory for all disciplines, for example environmental science, English communication/MIL communication. SEC courses are value-based and/or skill-based and are aimed at providing hands-on-training, competencies, skills, and the like (UGC, 2015, p. 7).

For example, an undergraduate degree in humanities, social sciences, or commerce may be awarded if a student completes four core papers each in two disciplines of choice, two core papers each in English and MIL respectively, two AECC, a minimum of four SEC, two papers each from a list of discipline-specific elective papers based on the two disciplines of choice selected above, respectively, and two papers from the list of general electives papers. If a student from the mathematics stream is interested in acquiring public speaking skills, under the Choice Based Credit System he can enrol in a public speaking course from another discipline.

Hence, under this system, students have more scope to enhance their skills and more scope to take up projects and assignments and vocational training, including entrepreneurship. According to UGC guidelines, the new system shifts the focus from teacher-centric to learner-centric education. The emphasis is on studying/learning and not on teaching, with the learner being at the centre stage of all academic transactions. This system may help improve students’ the job opportunities and enable potential employers to assess the performance of students on a scientific scale. ← 176 | 177 →


The two case studies present a different approach to employability and soft skills in a changing labour market with effects on employment.

Moreover, it is clear that it is not possible to talk and reflect on employability from a scientific point of view without considering how curricula are designed and which soft skills should be included. Nonetheless, there are a lot of possibilities from which the ‘ideal type’ of curriculum emerges. They are:

employability throughout the whole curriculum;

employability in the core curriculum;

work-based or work-related learning incorporated as one or more components within the curriculum;

employability-related module(s) within the curriculum;

work-based or work-related learning in parallel with the curriculum (Knight & Yorke, 2004, p. 199).

The juxtaposition shows that a similar approach to employability and soft skills is possible when considering the aim of single modules and/or courses.

Soft skills are the central point for promoting professionalisation in the educational field. In both countries, the attention to soft skills is very high because, as research has shown, the acquisition of soft skills, the construction of employability, and the transition to the labour market are deeply intertwined. At the same time, there are a lot of differences in the set of soft skills that are considered most important in the two countries. Indeed, different socio-economic contexts require different professional profiles and different skills, although neither Italy nor India can demonstrate that the identification of soft skills to be acquired as part of the curriculum is directly connected to or guided by the labour market. What higher education needs to do is to increase the number of modules and courses directly connected to the practice of students’ future professions, as indicated clearly by the graduate employability model, USEM, and the CareerEDGE models (see above), where extracurricular activities and work-related activities are considered the best way to acquire soft skills.

The approach to employability is quite similar. In both countries, we can observe that the curricula provide at least one module/course that adopts work-based or work-related didactical approach.

Italian and Indian university curricula are quite different because their main structural elements are different. For example, we can find different contents, types of didactical approach, tools, and so on. In particular, no curricular ← 177 | 178 → practical training is included in Indian curricula, as if practical experience should take place separately from theoretical moments.

To conclude, we can affirm that juxtaposing curricula, soft skills, and employability approaches at the global level is very important, because these features are deeply intertwined with the internationalisation of higher education in the care and education field and the construction of a civil society based on the intercultural exchange of best practices and the development of a unified society. Moreover, studies in adult education are part of the foundation of every democratic society.


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1 The paper is the result of joint work on the index, ideas for the paper, abstract, and references. However, the sections‘Definition of employability and employability models’ and ‘Conclusion’ can be attributed to Gaia Gioli, ‘The case study of Italy’ to Nicoletta Tomei, ‘Soft skills approach in India’ to Ashok Kumar, and ‘The Indian higher education system and the master’s degree curricula in education’ to Sunita Swajli.

2 The DOTS model was developed by Professor A.G. Watts and represented the framework for the development of the UK higher education system (Law & Watts 1977; Watts 2006).

3 The CareerEDGE model was introduced in 2007 as a framework for employability development targeted at academic staff, career staff, practitioners in employability activities, and students (Pool & Sewell, 2007).