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Graduates for the 21st Century ran from 2008 to 2011 and combined the work of the seven preceding Themes. The Theme explored the attributes of a graduate from Scottish higher education in the 21st century and sector support for the achievement of these attributes. Graduate attributes are defined differently from one institution to another but generally include components which relate to the mastery of subject-specific knowledge, study skills digital literacies and other 21st century skills. They are important statements for graduates, who need to understand what they can offer in fulfilling their future aspirations, and for employers, to understand what graduates bring with them into the workplace.


An overview paper collected the Theme’s exploration of the likely needs of an increasingly diverse range of learners and how best to support students to achieve these attributes. With equality, diversity and equity being at the forefront of a contemporary student experience, this resource is as relevant today as it was at the time of the Theme. The disruption of the global pandemic and its repercussions means challenging times lie ahead and graduates have a critical role in supporting economic recovery. The ‘Employability and the Austerity Decade’ paper reminds us of the skills diversity that graduates bring, and will be needed, to support recovery and future growth.

Institutional activity

We supported institutions to share and learn different enhancement approaches, through areas of shared interest. We looked at approaches both from within and outside the Scottish higher education sector.

Graduates for the 21st Century: Institutional activity

Publication date: 21 Aug 2012

Graduate attributes for the 21st Century

The Scottish higher education sector collectively considered the graduate attributes needed for the 21st century. We also looked at the likely needs of an increasingly diverse range of learners and how best to support students to achieve these attributes. We published an overview paper on the topic.  

The foundation for graduate attributes: Developing self-regulation through self-assessment

Publication date: 22 Aug 2011

Commissioned projects

During the ‘Graduates for the 21st Century’ Enhancement Theme we set up teams to consider graduate attributes and to support the work of the previous Themes with their own institutional priorities and strategies. Commissioned project facilitators worked on updating the work from selected areas of the previous Themes.

Employability strand

Issues raised relating to Employability are still relevant in 2019, and the following resources may prove useful.

Employability and the austerity decade

Publication date: 24 May 2011

Thinking strategically about employability and graduate attributes: Universities and enhancing learning for beyond university

Publication date: 25 May 2011

Enhancing research-teaching linkages as a way to improve the development of employability attributes

Publication date: 23 May 2011

Responding to student needs strand

Responding to students needs: Emerging and continuing issues

Publication date: 12 May 2011

Responding to student needs: Co-responsibility between students and institutions

Publication date: 15 May 2011

Classroom-based response to student needs

Publication date: 23 May 2011

Research-Teaching Linkages strand

Maintaining research-mindedness in Scotland's universities in a time of sector-wide change

Publication date: 23 May 2011

First year strand

First and foremost: Learner autonomy in the first year

Publication date: 23 May 2011

Assessment and feedback strand

Developing students' ability to construct feedback

Publication date: 26 May 2011