Key Skills at University

Schlüsselqualifikationen sind mehr als eine gute Idee.
Key skills are than just a good idea. Picture:

Students usually have more than enough to do, what with lectures and seminars, assignments and tutorials, as well as the individual preparatory and follow-up work required for university courses. Furthermore, it is also often necessary to have one or even two part-time jobs in order to pay for rent and study materials. Time is a luxury that one simply can’t afford. And anyway, it’s also important to have a life outside of uni. Isn’t it?

Depending on the course, key skills are sometimes mandatory and have simply become a regular part of university education. Despite this, they are often unpopular with students – even though they cover a wide range of exciting topics addressed in lectures and seminars. At the University of Stuttgart alone, you will be confronted with a wide variety of possible key skills courses – and aside from the mandatory courses, there are also many more on offer that will help you to widen your horizons. Although this, of course, demands that you take the time to do so. So what exactly are key skills all about?

Key Skills – What Exactly Are They?

Key skills is a term familiar to most students. But for anyone who doesn’t know what they are, here is a short explanation: Key skills are

“[…] general skills, approaches and elements of knowledge that are useful in a diverse range of contexts for problem solving, and for acquiring new competencies. They aid the development of important capabilities that make it possible to respond effectively not only to individual demands, but also to social requirements.” (According to the definition from the NRW Education Commission, 1995)

Acquiring new knowledge and the ability to produce academic work are the foundations of a university education and these skills are fundamentally important in a range of different contexts. Nevertheless, most university courses limit themselves to their own subject area. Key skills come into effect at exactly this point, at the interface between the ivory tower of knowledge and the practical application of this knowledge. They are becoming increasingly important, largely due to the fact that they significantly improve an individual’s ability to respond to a situation on various levels.

The University of Stuttgart offers a range of courses and seminars that teach these skills. The following paragraph provides an overview of the key skills courses on offer (referred to hereafter by the abbreviation KS).

Interdisciplinary Key Skills

Wissen verbindet. Quelle:
Knowledge connects. Picture:

Interdisciplinary KS incorporate methodic, social, communicative and personal competencies. Law, economics and politics are also part of key skills, along with a basic knowledge of science and technology. Because each individual area offers numerous events and activities, this blog entry focuses on methodic and social competencies. Either way, you can sign up for various courses depending on where your interests lie (and on availability) and improve your knowledge of subjects that may not be covered on your degree course, or you can test your knowledge of certain areas and share this with other students.

Methodic Competencies

In terms of methodic competencies, the uni offers a wide range of different courses and lectures. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce three of these:

  • Writing Workshop. The writing workshop involves taking an in-depth look at – yes you’ve guessed it – writing and all its different applications. The lecture An Introduction to Scientific Writing involves teaching students about the basics of academic or scientific writing. The course looks at a number of scientific texts and their specific languages structures. Furthermore, problematic areas are also analyzed and discussed. You also write your own texts, which you then rework and correct. This involves practical exercises to improve formulation. This is a great chance, particularly for those in their first semester, to gain some practical insight into how to correctly formulate seminar papers. This can help you avoid staring helplessly at a blank sheet of paper (and procrastinating) at the end of the semester. The course Academic Writing – Final Dissertation is recommended for those students who are approaching the end of their degree course and who are required to write a dissertation or a master’s thesis. Or if you need something even more specific, there is also: The Bachelor’s Dissertation for Humanities and Social Sciences.
  • Application-Oriented Introduction to Office. This lecture is pretty much self-explanatory – it involves a more detailed look at Microsoft Office, so programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access.
  • Work Methods, Time Management, and Self Organization. This course looks at how to work independently, introducing you to methods that help you use your time more effectively and improve your organization skills. This course is recommended for those of you who find it difficult to work independently and who are easily overwhelmed, or for those who prioritize the wrong things (or don’t prioritize at all) or for anyone who simply wishes to improve on the strategies they use already.

Social Competencies

Teamwork ftw! Quelle:
Teamwork ftw!

In addition to methodic skills, you can of course also acquire social competencies, or improve the ones you have. You can find the right course or lectures for you – as well as the methodic courses – in the course catalogue. The following three examples give you a taste of what social competencies really involve:

  • Working and Communicating in a Team. The ability to work in a team is necessary not just at university, but also in a range of different situations. Anyone who read my blog entry Success through teamwork: Great, someone else will do the work? and its sequel might be able to remember one or two examples of the traps one can fall into when involved in team work. This seminar explains the meaning of teams, the various phases of team development with reference to different models and fundamental principles of communication. At the end of the seminar you will be better able to reflect on your own behavior and that of others. And this won’t just give you the edge at university.
  • Communication Training: An Introduction to Nonviolent Conflict Resolution and Mediation. As the name suggests, this course focuses on the fundamental elements of conflict, violence and of course nonviolence. It looks at how nonviolent communication is possible and shows that it helps to make decisions based on consensus. In addition to gaining personal awareness about different types of conflict, you will also develop a more conscious awareness of conflict and acquire skills that will help you in private, university and work situations.
  • Communication Laboratory. This is a special kind of course: you will work in teams, looking at texts from Argyris, Senge, Luhmann and Schlötter and then present your findings to the other teams in the group – as a competition. The focus here is on working together as a team to explore the texts and, with the help of this self-awareness exercise, to develop a “realistic insight into communication”. What will you gain from this experience? You will develop a deeper understanding for other people and become more conscious of possible communication problems and pitfalls.

Are you curious and want to find out more about how you can sign up for these or other KS events and courses? Great!

Where can I find KS and how can I sign up?

If you want to know where you can find KS courses that interest you, or where you can find out if there is something on offer that suits you, take a look at the course catalogue.

It is really important to register early for KS courses because the number of places is often very limited. You can’t take part if you haven’t registered. Bachelor’s and master’s students in particular must make sure that they first register via LSF. You have to read the specific course information to find out if you also need to register directly (for example by emailing the relevant lecturer).

If you need more information about KS or if you have specific questions, get in touch directly with the Center for Teaching and Further Education. You can send an email, phone or talk to them personally. They are always happy to help.

PS: Detailed instructions about how to register for KS courses can be found by following this link.


Liebt Literatur und Psychologie. Hat einen Master in Germanistik und studiert Psychologie im Zweitstudium, um beide Leidenschaften zu vereinen. "Das Leben ist wert, gelebt zu werden, sagt die Kunst, die schönste Verführerin; das Leben ist wert, erkannt zu werden, sagt die Wissenschaft." (F. W. Nietzsche)

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