In search of graduate attributes: A survey of six flagship programmes

C. Winberg, A. Staak, M. Bester, S. Sabata, D. Scholtz, R. Sebolao, M. Monnapula-Mapesela, N. Ronald, M. Makua, J. Snyman, P. Machika


The focus of this study is the emergence of distinctive graduate attributes in flagship programmes at Universities of Technology in South Africa. The theoretical framework chosen for this study, Legitimation Code Theory (Maton 2014), offers an explanation of the underlying knowledge principles that make different kinds of thinking, doing and being possible. This paper studies how favourable graduate attributes were achieved, identifies similarities across underpinning structures, and highlights the challenges faced by universities of technology in creating environments in which desired graduate attributes might be developed. The paper offers a means of understanding the potential for the emergence of graduate attributes across undergraduate programmes in vocational and professional higher education contexts.

Full Text:



Barnett, R. 2006. Graduate attributes in an age of uncertainty. In Graduate Attributes, Learning and Employability, eds. P. Hager and S. Holland, 49-65. Dordrecht: Springer.

Barrie, S.C. 2004. A research-based approach to generic graduate attributes policy. Higher Education Research & Development 23(3): 261-275.

Barrie, S. C. 2006. Understanding what we mean by generic attributes of graduates. Higher Education 51: 215-241.

Barrie, S., J. Andrews, L. Dean and I.Heimanis. 2010. Employability: realising the potential of a university education. In A Practical Guide to University and College Management: Beyond the Bureaucracy, eds. S. Brown and S. Denton, 283-302. London: Routledge.

Blanco Ramírez, G. 2013. Studying quality beyond technical rationality: political and symbolic perspectives. Quality in Higher Education 19(2): 126-141.

Bond, C. H., R. Spronken-Smith, A. McLean, N. Smith, S. Frielick, M. Jenkins, and S. Marshall. 2017. A framework for enabling graduate outcomes in undergraduate programmes. Higher Education Research & Development 36(1): 43-58.

Bosanquet, A., T. Winchester-Seeto and A. Rowe. 2010. Changing perceptions underpinning graduate attributes: a pilot study. In Proceedings from the 33rd HERDSA Annual International Conference: Research and Development in Higher Education: Reshaping in Higher Education, eds. M. Devlin, J. Nagy and A. Lichtenberg (33): 105-117.

Bourdieu, P. 1986. The forms of capital. In Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. J. Richardson, 241-258. New York: Greenwood.

Bowden, J., G. Hart, B. King, K. Trigwell, and O. Watts. 2000. Generic capabilities of ATN university graduates. Final report to DETYA. Melbourne: Australian Teaching and Learning Committee, Australian Technology Network. []

Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC). 2013. Pathways from University to Work: A Graduate Destination Survey of the 2010 Cohort of Graduates from the Western Cape: A Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC) Study. Available at

Clarke, B. 2005. Sustaining change in universities: continuities in case studies and concepts. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Council on Higher Education (CHE), South Africa. 2013. A Framework for Qualification Standards in Higher Education. Pretoria: Council on Higher Education. [Online].

Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), South Africa. 2014. White Paper for Post-School Education and Training. Pretoria: Department of Higher Education & Training. [Online]

den Boer, D., A. Rip, and S. Speller. 2009. Scripting possible futures of nanotechnologies: A methodology which enhances reflexivity. Technology in Society 31(3): 295-304.

Dewey, J. (1967-1990). John Dewey, the collected works, ed., J. Boydston. Carbondale: S. Illinois University Press.

Fallows, S. and Steven, C. 2000. Building employability skills into the higher education curriculum: A university-wide initiative. Education+ training, 42(2): 75-83.

Garraway, J. 2017. Future orientated approaches to curriculum development: Fictive scripting. Higher Education Research and Development. DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2016.1170765.

Green, W., S.Hammer and C. Star. 2009. Facing up to the challenge: why is it so hard to develop graduate attributes? Higher Education Research & Development 28(1): 17-29.

Hager, P. 2006. Nature and development of generic attributes. In Graduate Attributes, Learning and Employability, eds. P. Hager and S. Hollard,17-47). Dordrecht: Springer.

Hannon, P. D. 2013. Why is the entrepreneurial university important? Journal of Innovation Management 1(2): 10-17.

Holmes, L., 2000. Questioning the skills agenda in Integrating Key Skills. In Higher Education, eds. Fallows, S. and Steven, C., pp. 201-214. London, Kogan Page.

Isaak, R. 2002. The making of the ecopreneur. Greener Management International 38: 81-91.

Jones, J. 2001. Generic attributes: an agenda for reform or control. Changing Identities: Language and Academic Skills Conference.

Jones, A. 2009. Re-disciplining generic attributes: The disciplinary context in focus. Studies in Higher Education 34(1): 85-100.

Jones, A. 2012. There is nothing generic about graduate attributes: unpacking the scope of context. Journal of Further and Higher Education 37 (5): 1-15.

Kalfa, S. and L. Taksa. 2015. Cultural capital in business higher education: reconsidering the graduate attributes movement and the focus on employability. Studies in Higher Education 40(4): 580-595.

Marton, F. and Booth, S.A. 1997. Learning and awareness. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Maton, K. 2005. A question of autonomy: Bourdieu’s field approach and higher education policy. Journal of Education Policy 20(6): 687-704.

Maton, K. 2014. Knowledge and knowers: towards a realist sociology of education. London:


Maton, K. and RTH (Would this require full stops between initials?) Chen. 2016. LCT in

qualitative research: creating a translation device for studying constructivist pedagogy. In Knowledge building: educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory, eds. K. Maton, S. Hood and S. Shay. London: Routledge, pp. 49-71.

Maton K. and S. Howard. 2016. LCT in mixed-methods research: evolving an instrument for quantitative data. In Knowledge building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory. London: Routledge: In eds, K. Maton, S. Hood and S. Shay (eds.), pp. 27-48

Nabi, G., R. Holden, and A.Walmsley, A. 2010. From student to entrepreneur: towards a model of graduate entrepreneurial career‐making, Journal of Education and Work, 23 (5): 389-415.

Oliver, B. 2013. Graduate attributes as a focus for institution-wide curriculum renewal: innovations and challenges. Higher Education Research & Development 32(3): 450-463.

Schiller, D. and P. Brimble. 2009. Capacity building for university–industry linkages in developing countries: the case of the Thai Higher Education Development Project. Science, Technology & Society 14 (1): 59–92.

Schön, D. 1984. The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action. London: Basic Books.

Souitaris, V., Zerbinati, S. and Al-Laham, A., 2007. Do entrepreneurship programmes raise entrepreneurial intention of science and engineering students? The effect of learning, inspiration and resources. Journal of Business venturing, 22(4): 566-591.

Trowler, P. 2008. Cultures and Change in Higher Education: Theories and Practices

(Universities into the 21st Century). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

eISSN: 1753-5913

Copyright © 2016 South African Journal of Higher Education

Hosted by Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service since 2016.

Creative Commons License -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This journal is hosted by the SU LIS on request of the journal owner/editor. The SU LIS takes no responsibility for the content published within this journal, and disclaim all liability arising out of the use of or inability to use the information contained herein. We assume no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any breaches of agreement with other publishers/hosts.