Institute of Teaching and Learning

Professional Development for Teaching and Learning

Graduate attributes - what are they?

Graduate attributes at Deakin

Deakin's Higher Education Courses operational policy (Deakin University, 2010) includes a schedule of graduate attributes for all programs:

Schedule A: Attributes of a Deakin Graduate

All Deakin programs will encourage students to develop attitudes of intellectual curiosity and motivation for independent thinking, autonomous learning and reflective professional and personal practice, and a commitment to ethical and sustainable practices. Appropriate to its level of study and discipline composition, each program will be designed to ensure that students develop their knowledge and understanding as well as a range of generic skills. These are described below.

Knowledge and understanding

  • understanding of, and the ability to work with, a systematic body of knowledge, appropriate to the focus and level of the qualification based on the highest standards of scholarship and research

and where research is undertaken:
- ability to initiate and formulate viable and relevant research questions
- contribution to new knowledge, or an original interpretation and application of existing knowledge
- understanding of the social, economic and cultural impact and application of their research, and its academic relevance and value

  • understanding of the professional, social, economic and cultural contexts of the discipline and related fields
  • awareness of ethical issues, social responsibility and cultural diversity
  • awareness of environmental sustainability issues and the contribution of the field of study to address such issues
  • understanding and appreciation of international perspectives in a global environment.


  • critical analysis, problem solving, and creative thinking
  • identifying, gathering, evaluating and using information
  • communicating effectively and appropriately in a range of contexts
  • developing, planning and managing independent work
  • working effectively as part of a team
  • effectively using information and communication technologies
  • applying knowledge learned in the program to new situations.

The policy also addresses the requirements for the incorporation of graduate attributes into Deakin programs:

Graduate Attributes must be incorporated at all stages of every program from its original design to the assessment of its performance. To effectively manage this process, the following list identifies where and how the Graduate Attributes might be employed at various stages of course design and evaluation.

  1. Identification of Graduate Attributes in Course Design
    Course approval documents (relating to academic merit) should specify the knowledge/understanding and skills that a course will develop, consistent with the course aims.
  2. Incorporation and assessment of Attributes
    Course approval documents (relating to academic merit) should indicate how the units that comprise the course will develop graduate attributes and how these will be assessed. Each unit description (as approved by the faculty boards) indicates what knowledge and skills it develops and how students' achievements of these are assessed. This can be summarised in a matrix which shows how the specified attributes will be developed through units and their respective assessment tasks.
  3. Communication and promotion to Students
    Communication to students about the specific Graduate Attributes they will develop through the course and a rationale for how they benefit from these attributes will be included in handbook descriptions, induction programs, unit guides, course materials, assessment criteria, assignment feedback and other media as developed by Course Teams. The communication strategy will be summarised in annual course reviews and course approval/major review documents.
  4. Students' Documentation of their Attributes
    Students will be encouraged to document their achievement of the specified attributes by compiling individual portfolios. This will involve portfolio tools under development and advisory services provided by Student Life.
  5. Program Performance Measures
    Evidence that Graduate Attributes are effectively being incorporated into a course and promoted to students will be presented in annual course review reports. Evidence can be derived from a range of sources including Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) data and other student feedback.
  6. Review of the Attributes
    The Graduate Attributes for each course will be reviewed periodically to determine whether they remain appropriate or need revision and whether the course has been successful in achieving the desired outcomes. This will be done systematically during major course reviews but an annual consideration of these matters will be supported by advice from Advisory Boards, reference to the Course Experience Questionnaire outcomes (CEQ generic skills scores) and other student feedback as well as input from surveys of employers and incorporated into annual course reviews.
  7. Improvement cycle
    The performance of each course will be evaluated and measures for improvement will be managed via annual course reviews and the major course review process. This will be reported to Advisory Boards, Faculty Boards and the Academic Board as appropriate.

In December 2004 and January 2005, the Deakin Planning Unit undertook a survey of a range of employers of Deakin graduates to, "... determine whether Deakin's graduates are seen by employers to possess the skills expected by those employers and the graduate attributes identified by the University"(Deakin University Planning Unit, 2005). While the survey was based on a previous set of Deakin graduate attributes, and while the number of respondents to the survey was comparatively small (45) and skewed to employers from a relatively small number of professions, the survey provided some general information about which attributes employers want, which attributes they think are important and how they assess the performance of Deakin's graduates with respect to those attributes. Attributes that were ranked as important by employers and for which they rated Deakin graduates highly included interpersonal skills, capacity to work in teams and work collaboratively, information and communication technology literacy, and an appreciation of the need to keep up to date in their field of education. Attributes which were ranked as important by employers and for which they rated Deakin graduates as not performing highly included oral communication skills, written communication skills and conflict management skills. These results, while interesting, were based on a small sample that did not represent the full range of programs at Deakin. Individual programs would be wise to conduct their own research to determine what attributes are considered valuable by potential employers of graduates, and how their graduates are rated by their employers.

The 2005 Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) audit of Deakin made the recommendation, "...that Deakin University communicate to students more effectively the nature and aims of the Deakin Advantage [the then current name of the suite of Deakin's graduate attributes] and assist them to document the discipline-specific and generic skills they are developing throughout their course" (Australian Universities Quality Agency, 2005, p. 19). A 2006 survey of completing engineering students at Deakin found that, although more than half (52.1 percent) of respondents were aware that Engineers Australia specified required graduate attributes, only one third were aware that Deakin University did the same (Palmer & Hall, 2006). This information suggests that we can do more in communicating the existence and relevance of graduate attributes to students.

Activity icon Activity

What methods (at the program level and at the unit level) does your School use to communicate the existence and importance of graduate attributes to current students in the program(s) that you contribute to? If you are unsure, what methods could your School use?

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6th December 2010