Towards a reconceptualisation of skill : a study of skills in higher education
The concept of skill has become increasingly important in the discourse of education over recent years and now appears to have assumed a central position in the debate surrounding the purpose and function of higher education. Skill is a construct which is now required to function as a unifying principle and conflates into one notion, previously separate understandings of national economic competitiveness, skilled performance and higher education. It is a construct which is over-used and under-theorised and paradoxically (for such a 'unifying' concept) appears to be fractured by fundamental inconsistencies and structural ambiguities. The aim of this study is to reveal the nature of the problem which impacts on higher education and skill, and to place skill in an appropriate context within higher education. This is undertaken by analysing the literatures which hold skill as a central concept; by attempting to construct a logical framework to provide greater clarity and focus in the use of skill within the discourse of education; to establish an appropriate underpinning rationale for delimiting the use of skill in educational discourse; and to seek to influence educational debate on the appropriate and incommensurable uses of skill within the discourse of education. The research deploys discourse analysis - notably the social constructionist theories of Ernesto Laclau and Chantale Mouffe (1985) - and argues that skill has become a nodal point both within the discourse of education and a floating Signifier between the several discourses which hold skill as a central concept. The study argues that the current conception of skill is both antithetical to skill production within higher education and inimical to the purposes and function of higher education. And further, that skill now functions as a social myth, embodying a new ideology which continues to inflict serious bilateral damage on both higher education and skill.