Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Transferable skills

core definition

Transferable skills are attributes developed in one setting that can be applied in another.

explanatory context

Transferable skills are sometimes misleadingly referred to as 'soft skills' or 'non-specialist skills' or contrasted to 'basic skills'. None of these alternative labels is appropriate as all skills are potentilly transferable from one context to another. 'Soft skills' usually means those attributes that are difficult to specify, such as tact or enthusiasm or team working. Non-specialist skills is similar to 'soft skills', referring to all the other attributes other than specific technical ability required to undertake a job.

analytical review (2000–13) state simply that:

Transferable skills are those versatile skills that you can apply and make use of in a number of different roles. (undated), states that transferable skills are:

Aptitude and knowledge acquired through personal experience such as schooling, jobs, classes, hobbies, sports etc. Basically, any talent developed and able to be used in future employment. For example, a transferable skill applied to a business could consist of parenting skills in the opening of a pre-school.

The Careers Group, University of London (2004) state:

Transferable skills are abilities, aptitudes and qualities developed in one context that can be applied to another. Higher education students might develop skills as a result of the teaching and learning process, from extra-curricular activities or from work experience.

Lemmens (2011), confounds transferable skills with soft skills and states:

A good definition of a transferable skill is “an ability learnt in one environment, which can be utilised in another”. Often transferable skills are also referred to as soft skills.

The Transferable Skills Project, defined transferable skills to be:

skills developed in one situation which can be transferred to another situation. (Curry et al., 2003)

The University of Manchester (2007) website defines transferable skills as:

skills developed through experience, which can be used in the workplace.

The University of Reading (undated) states that:

Transferable skills are the basic abilities that we apply to any given situation.

The UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE) (2010) project drew on the literature on transferable skills to identify them as the following:

•    communication: the ability to present an communicate in written and oral form and to use language appropriately in complex argument
•    problem-solving: the ability to identify and analyse practical issues arising in a situation and to offer a practical solution, making effective use of time and resources available
•    teamwork: the ability to establish working relations with others, to interact
effectively, and to promote productive cooperation
•    autonomy and personal skills: the ability to act independently, to deal with the unexpected, to reflect on one’s own actions and to accept and provide constructive feedback
•    information technology: the ability to use IT tools and develop that use by integrating it into their own work
•    numeracy: the ability to make use of numerical and statistical information as part of an argument or in a report
•    intellectual skills: the ability to analyse, think critically, evaluate and 
synthesise informati

The International Olympic Committee (undated) states:

Transferable skills (also called “life skills”) may be defined as a set of qualities that can be applied to any field or career, regardless of where they were first learned. Sylviane Berthod’s skills were setting goals; staying motivated through adversity; and being meticulous and regular in everything she did as an athlete. These skills are developed during your sports career. The most commonly cited transferable skills for athletes are: 1) the ability to perform under pressure; 2) the ability to solve problems; 3) the gift of organising; 4) the aptitude to meet deadlines and challenges; 5) the talent to set and achieve goals; and 6) dedication and self-motivation. Recent studies have shown that athletes also acquire transferable team-related and interpersonal skills, such as the ability to deal with people and work together towards a common goal.

Yorke (2006, section 9.2) sums up transferability as follows:

In the 1980s attention was given to ‘transferable’ or ‘generic’ skills. The basic idea was that skills learned in one context could fairly readily be transferred to another, and this is captured in a definition put forward by the then Training Agency, which saw transferable skills as:
the generic capabilities which allow people to succeed in a wide range of different tasks and jobs (Training Agency, 1990, p. 5).
In an early discussion of transferability, Bridges (1993) differentiated between skills that were essentially context-independent (the use of word processing, say) and those that were context-dependent16. Context-dependent skills can be exemplified by behaviour that might be appropriate in one context (for example, challenging received wisdom in higher education) but that might not be well received in another (challenging an employer’s way of going about things). Far from transfer being a simple translation, its potential applicability required an appreciation of how the change in context might impact. In the same vein, a recent analysis by Hinchliffe (2002) insists on the importance of developing situational understandings that are (at least potentially) able to cater for the unpredictability of happenings in the world.
Consideration of context-dependency led Bridges to a further category of skills which he (Bridges, 1993, p. 12)
termed ‘transferring skills’ – higher order skills that enable the person ‘to select, adapt, adjust and apply [his or her] other skills to different situations, across different social contexts and perhaps similarly across different cognitive domains’ (Bridges, 1993, p.50). He points out that the exercise of ‘transferring skills’ involves very sophisticated personal/intellectual achievements that are much more attuned to professional behaviour than ‘the atomistic list of "competencies" towards which we are sometimes invited to direct our enthusiasm’ (Bridges, 1993, p. 51).

associated issues

Common skills

BTEC [in the early 1990s] places considerable emphasis on the development of what it calls ‘common skills’. Common skills are defined as transferable skills which play and essential role in developing personal effectiveness in adult and working life and the application of specific vocational skills. The development of common skills is intended to provide a basis for continual learning and reflects the need for a more flexible work force. These common skills are: managing and developing self; working with and relating to others; communicating; managing tasks and solving problems; applying numeracy; applying technology; applying design and technology. BTEC’s view reflects the expressed concerns of employers (Harvey, Burrows and Green, 1992).

related areas

See also


Sources, 2000–13, Transferable Skills in the Workplace, available at, accessed 13 March 2013, still available 11 January 2017. (undated), Transferable Skills, available at, accessed 10 November 2012, still available 11 January 2017.

Bridges, D., 1993, ‘Transferable skills: a philosophical perspective’, Studies in Higher Education, 18(1), pp. 43–51.

Careers Group, University of London, 2004, Identifying Transferable Skills: A resource for academic staff, originally 2001 revised 2004, available at, accessed 13 March 2013. Reference no longer at this address. The Careers Group address has changed to, accessed 10 February 2016 and still available 11 January 2017.

Curry, P., Sherry, R. and Tunney, O., 2003, What Transferable Skills do Employers Look for in Third-Level Graduates?, available at, accessed 3 May 2007, not available 14 November 2012.

Hinchliffe, G., 2002, ‘Situating skills’, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 36(2), pp. 187–205.

International Olympic Committee, undated, What are transferable skills?, available at, accessed 13 March 2013, page not available 11 January 2017.

Lemmens, N., 2011, What are your transferable skills? Available at, updated 15 May 2011, accessed 13 March 2013, still available 11 January 2017.

Training Agency, 1990, Enterprise in Higher Education: Key features of Enterprise in Higher Education proposal, Sheffield: Training Agency.

UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE), 2010, General transferable skills: definition, available at, last modified 4 June 2010, accessed 12 March 2013. Note UKCLE closed 31 July 2011. This is an archive site, page not available 11 January 2017.

University of Manchester (2007) StudentNet, ‘Transferable Skills’, available at, accessed 29 October 2007, not available 14 November 2012.

University of Reading, undated, Recognising Skills, available at, accessed 10 November 2012, page not available 11 January 2017.

Yorke, M., 2006, Employability in higher education: what it is – what it is not, Learning and Employability Series 1, York Higher Education Academy, April, available at, accessed 13 March 2013, still available 11 January 2017. This was an ESECT output, which can be found here and links to other outputs can be found at

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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