Sir Tim Wilson's review of business-HE relations has hit the desks at the Business Department and very welcome it is, too. Wilson's first recommendation is that the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) set up an authoritative and evidence-based centre for information about collaboration between private companies, the public sector and higher education. We are up for the challenge and have set about working it through with our Council, which includes some of the most experienced business leaders in the UK.
Wilson's report is, like the man himself, bloody sensible. Its thesis is symmetrical, sophisticated and sensitive - collaboration is good for the student, the institution, business and the UK. It doesn't fall for hackneyed arguments about oven-ready graduates or learning for learning's sake. Instead it produces a menu of practical approaches to doing what universities do best to meet the modern needs of modern businesses, whilst nonetheless being grounded in a moral view of widening participation.
Universities teach the ability to apply theory to practice, an increasingly important quality in an ultra-fast, communication-drenched global world, where what is a 'fact' today is a historical artefact tomorrow. Businesses need universities to produce expert graduates more than ever, because competitive success is driven by constant and necessarily restless innovation, and a workforce that is merely skilled and able to do repeatable tasks in a predictable environment will be swamped by waves of transformation.
Wilson's recommendations broadly fall into two basic categories. First, no willing student should be left behind in structured contacts with business. Many of his challenges focus on re-booting sandwich courses, freeing up employer funded qualifications, and establishing, in effect, a widening participation scheme for interns. Peter Reddy and Liz Moores at Aston University have demonstrated that a properly structured internship, integrated into the course, leads to better results for the student. As Wilson implies, internships are as much a widening participating issue as getting to university in the first place. But he also points to the vital importance of engaging postgraduates - including doctoral students - with businesses.
Wilson's other focus is on getting the best out of the innovation system, which is vital if the UK is to grow. We have made a start with our report on the R&D system, which is an example of the kind of evidence-based thinking the new centre will deliver.
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