Preparing Students for the 4IR: Competence-based HE

Preparing Students for the 4IR: Competence-based HE

Dr Jenny Lawrence, PFHEA. Head Teaching Excellence Academy

Professor Becky Huxley Binns, NTF, PFHEA. Pro Vice Chancellor Education

Professor Graham Scott, NTF, PFHEA. Director, Teaching Excellence Academy


The University of Hull Competence Framework is now live. This Framework sets out how we will design and deliver degree programmes that will set up our students, staff and local region for success.

University of Hull graduates move on to further study, employment, enterprise, and voluntary service. However, these graduate futures are fast changing. With the onset of the fourth industrial revolution, (4IR) in a context of increasing political unease, economic uncertainty and climate change we must build a ‘curricula fit for the future’ (Coonan and Pratt-Adams, 2019), a curricula that will equip our graduates with the necessary skills to navigate uncertainty with confidence, critically interrogate and assess the validity of information with integrity and rigour (Coonan-Pratt Adams, 2019), and act independently and responsibly (Martin, 2019) with a mind to ethical, global citizenship (Basio, 2019, United Nations Education Science and Culture Organisation, 2015). This calls for higher education that goes beyond knowledge-recall and/or technical ability, where the creativity and innovation found in all subjects are crucial (Coonan and Pratt-Adams, 2019). It will be in the development of these essentially human traits and the ability to articulate their graduate capabilities clearly to future employers or community leaders (Coonan and Pratt-Adams, 2019) that will secure our graduates’ success.  

We can speculate on the skills necessary to navigate the 4IR, but given the speed of change inherent to 4IR we cannot be certain how these will manifest (Coonan and Pratt-Adams, 2019; UNESCO, 2015; World Economic Forum, 2017). Dewey tells us ‘it is impossible to prepare for a precise set of conditions. To prepare for the future life is to give [them] command of [themselves] to have the full and ready use of all [their] capacities’ (Dewey, 2019, pg. 37). Our Graduates must be able to recognise when, how and where to focus their developmental energies and respond to the changing demands of life, work and society.

We believe competence-based higher education responds to these challenges; Professor Becky Huxley-Binns has put competence at the heart of our programme of transformation. Competence is commonly understood to comprise three dimensions, which we have nuanced in response to our particular learning community and the 4IR. Our competence-based degree programmes will develop students’ abilities in Knowledge Management (how intelligence is sourced, selected and communicated); provide Disciplinary or Professional Experience (the application of knowledge to a specific task or practice) and teach the importance of Self-Awareness (how to reflect, self-assess and self-regulate in public and private domains, in independent or team working). These three dimensions will lead to their realising our University’s graduate attributes, which you can see in the figure below:



We will launch competence-based degree programmes in phases, as we learn and grow our capacity, starting with Sept 2020. By 2022/2023, our entire on-campus portfolio will be competence based.

Competencies must be taught in practice and assessed in application. This will see our students learning by attending to live or authentic/real world assignments relevant to study, work and life, wherever possible with local partners. This not only benefits the local region, but for our specific student population, opens up the potential to build student educational and cultural and social capital – that is how to get on as a professional in the fast-changing world.

We, the Teaching Excellence Academy, are committed to paying constant attention to the academic development of our staff involved in teaching, essential if we are to support our students’ graduate future in the 4IR (Martin, 2019). We are finding ever more 'fluid' ways of working (Stuart & Shutt, 2019) to sustain the relevance of our educational portfolio. We do this by keeping our knowledge of the scholarship of teaching and learning up to date; consulting with our stakeholders (student sponsors, prospective students, employers and providers of voluntary and other services), and working with programme teams in ensuring the competencies delivered on the University of Hull’s degree programmes are meaningful to all.  

We believe our students will leave us with a clear understanding of who they are and what they are able to do as graduates, complimented with a personal commitment to life-long learning. Our competence-based degree programmes will ensure the enduring currency of our students ‘graduate-ness’ and set them up for success in work and in life.


The Teaching Excellence Academy would like to thank all the members of the Competency-based HE working group who tried and tested the Competence Framework, our peer reviewers and critical friends and specific members of the Academy team who have leaned into the task of creating the framework:

Carole Craven; Catherine Lillie; David Sands: Elizabeth Ward; Fernando Correia; Katharine Hubbard; Lesley Morrell; Michael Gratzke; Mike Ewen; Paula Gawthorpe; Steve Burwood; Stuart McGugan; Wayne Williams; Anne Kaegi; Jason Lawrence; Helen Fenwick; Alison Price-Moir; Graham Scott; Simeon Orduan; Colette Conroy.


Basio, E (2019) The need for a values-based curriculum. University World News Retrieved from on 20 January 2020.

Coonan, E. and Pratt-Adams, S. (2019) Building Higher Education Curricula Fit for The Future: How Higher Education institutions are responding to the Industrial Strategy. York: Advance HE. 

Dewey, J. (2019) Moral Principles in Education and My Pedagogic Creed. UK: Myers Education Press.

Martin, P (2019) On The Horizon. An Advance He report on the challenges for learning and teaching in global higher education over the next five to ten years. York: Advance HE.

Stuart & Shutt (2019) A manifesto for the 21st Century University. WonkHE blog, Retreived from (Links to an external site.) on 23.1.2020

United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation (2015) Rethinking Education: towards a common good. Retrieved from January 20th


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