Business lessons

IT is ironic that Ministers are accusing universities of not being sufficiently innovative when the Government continues to obfuscate over the publication of the Higher Education White Paper – the parameters that these institutions will have to operate under.

Yet Professor Michael Arthur, the vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, is right when he says the legislative changes, following the dramatic increase in tuition fees, should see a new relationship forged between businesses and these seats of learning.

With the initial level of fees clearly exceeding the Government’s expectations, Ministers hope that the final bill will fall in due course – and one way is for businesses to sponsor those undergraduates they might employ.

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However, this will not just benefit those companies and individuals than take part in such schemes. One of the primary criticisms of the expanded university sector is that many courses are too long – they could be foreshortened by one year – and that they do not adequately prepare students for their chosen career.

Yet, if there is more input from business and industry at the outset, there is a greater likelihood of studies becoming more relevant – and greater incentives for such organisations to invest in the higher education sector. This, alone, will not solve the skills and training crisis facing Britain as levels of youth and graduate unemployment reach record levels.

However, a greater onus on willing businesses – whether it be the sponsorship of degree places or the creation of apprenticeships for school-leavers – to become involved in the education of the next generation of entrepreneurs.

This approach should not require legislation. It should be happening automatically, and especially at those universities with a reputation for pragmatism.