Neither ‘bolt-on’ nor ‘built-in’: benefits and challenges of developing an integrated skills curriculum through a partnership model

James Cairns, Tamara Hervey, Oliver Johnson


All universities are seeking to develop their students’ skills. Typically, they deploy either or both an independent ‘skills’ offering, separate from disciplinary learning (‘bolt-on’); and/or individual academic staff embedding skills assessment in some modules (‘built-in’). What are the drawbacks of ‘bolt-on’ and ‘built-in’? To what extent does a partnership model, involving an integrated and longitudinal skills curriculum, resolve those drawbacks? Under what circumstances is this possible? What are the main barriers? We present a case study of a major curriculum development in the School of Law at the University of Sheffield to argue that the benefits of partnership probably outweigh either ‘bolt-on’ or ‘built-in’. However, some of the enablers and inhibitors associated with contemporary higher education (HE) may suggest that ‘built-in’ is more viable. This is not primarily because of the difficulties of engaging academic disciplinary specialists; rather it is better explained by structural and institutional rigidities. We therefore recommend courage to take a long view, to aim high, and to celebrate small successes.


academic partnerships; study skills; employability; inclusive learning

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ISSN: 1759-667X