These charming men. And women.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

A couple of years ago I noted a report on the teaching of “life skills” to students preparing to leave home for university and having to look after themselves for the first time. Now there is a report on how universities are stepping in to fill students’ social-skills gaps ready for the world of work after graduation. The basics of everyday working life seem to be on offer:

After final exams are over, MIT students will return from their holiday break to experience something different from their usual studies—but almost as important.

It’s the university’s annual Charm School, offering instruction in everything from how to make a first impression to how to dress for work to which bread plate to use.

“And we call these ‘buttons’…”

Other colleges have started teaching students how to make small talk, deal with conflict, show up on time, follow business etiquette, and communicate with co-workers.

These programs may be fun, or even funny, but there’s a deadly serious purpose to them: to give students the kinds of social skills they need to get and keep a job.

All highly necessary I am sure but I suspect it is rare to be faced with a choice of bread plates in most social situations these days.

It does seem a bit surprising that this kind of activity is required but it is clearly widespread:

York teaches a workshop for sophomores called Mastering the Art of Small; Talk two majors, education and sports management, require their students to take it. It also offers a seminar in taking criticism.

“This generation talks better with their thumbs than face to face,” Randall says.

And it’s not just communicating that appears to challenge this latest group of college students. It’s mingling, networking, handling conflict, eating—even dressing.

MIT students participate in Charm School, a series of short classes designed to teach everything from how to network with alumni to tying a bowtie.

“Students don’t really know what’s meant by professional dress, whether it’s a young lady wearing a skirt that’s way too short or a young man whose pants aren’t really tailored,” says MIT’s Hamlett. “Most students just roll out of bed in whatever it is they want to wear. There’s this ‘come as you are’ about being a college student.”

This ‘come as you are approach’ is not confined to the US. Here at the University of Nottingham the Careers and Advisory Service also runs an annual fashion show highlighting the importance of a professional appearance in the workplace.

What difference does it make? We’ll see.

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Fashion victims?

Another exciting new higher education development

The Evening Standard, along with much of the fashion press (I believe), carries this story about a new fashion and design college:

MOVE over AC Grayling, there’s a new college in town. Magazine publisher Condé Nast is launching a private college for fashion and design next year, which will be a potent rival to the London College of Fashion, Central St Martins and Chelsea, all part of the University of the Arts London.

The Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design will offer its students a year-long “Vogue” fashion foundation course, and “House & Garden” interior design and decoration, with further Masters courses to follow.

The college, which opens in September 2012, will also provide tuition on journalism, luxury brands and business skills, and will be headed by Susie Forbes, editor of Easy Living.

When AC Grayling opened the New College of the Humanities, he came under fire for commercialising education. So how will Condé Nast fare with its branded courses?

In the Independent, there are a few more details including the suggestion that the college will take 300 students a year. And all sources carry this marvellous quote:

“Condé Nast is perfectly placed to enter the world of education,” says Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Condé Nast. “The reputation and authority of our brands puts us in a strong position to teach and inspire the fashion and decorating talent of the future.”

It’s interesting that this venture really hasn’t generated anything like as much hostility as the New College of the Humanities, despite the potential for significant competition with existing long established providers in London. Perhaps it’s because the proposal isn’t really being taken seriously because no academics seem to be involved. But there is a lot of money behind this (and the former editor of “Easy Living”) and isn’t this exactly what the White Paper was envisaging in opening up higher education to entrants?