Developing graduate attributes

How to write programme graduate attributes and align them with Victoria University of Wellington’s graduate profile.

The Centre for Academic Development recommends that curriculum mapping and redesign processes should be underpinned by the concept of Backward Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) and/or Constructive Alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2011). There are three phases to this process:

  1. identifying the desired results (graduate profile, major attributes)
  2. deciding what would constitute evidence of that result (assessment), and consequently
  3. developing a plan to produce that evidence (programme mapping and progression plan, course learning objectives, course feedback and assessment plan).

Programme-specific graduate attributes

Developing programme-specific graduate attributes is an important first step in this process.

Programme graduate attributes are made up of the things you want graduates of your programme or major to be able to know, do, achieve or be.

It is important to remember that in addition to developing disciplinary knowledge, the University's graduate profile states that all students who graduate will have had opportunities for local and global engagement.

Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington is committed to meeting our institutional obligations in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi. The Te Tiriti o Waitangi Guide provides helpful advice in this regard, and should be consulted when developing programme graduate attributes.

Designing for different disciplines

Different disciplines have different understandings of what it means to think creatively or to have advanced communication skills, etc. (Jones, 2009).

When developing programme-level attributes, you will need to express elements of the Victoria University of Wellington’s Graduate Profile in a disciplinarily appropriate manner.

It is important that the programme team understand and agree with the programme graduate attributes, and that they understand that these attributes are not abstract, but are used to define what are the priorities for courses in their programmes.

For this reason, it can be helpful for the programme team to work together when defining programme-specific graduate attributes.

Typically, an undergraduate programme has between five and seven specific graduate attributes, aligned to Victoria University of Wellington’s Graduate Profile.


Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. (4th ed.). OUP.

Jones, A. (2009) Redisciplining generic attributes: the disciplinary context in focus. Studies in higher education, 34(1), 85-100.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. ASCD.