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Skills as trope, skills as target: Universities and the uncertain future

The Productivity Commission’s work on ‘new models of tertiary education’ houses the latest iteration of a discourse around ‘transferable skills’ at tertiary level that has deep implications for how we conceive of the purpose and value of tertiary education. Skills are increasingly located at the centre of conceptions of graduate outcomes, rather than as foundational or peripheral. However, such discourse does not often acknowledge the complexity of skills instruction or of transfer, and often positions skills instruction as aligned with employability outcomes and in opposition to knowledge, tradition, and the social good of higher education. Accordingly, and with a particular focus on writing instruction, this commentary argues that more subtle accounts of skills instruction and its civic implications are warranted.