THE BLOG

The Business of Learning: Students Profit From Business Partnership

13/05/2013 15:26 BST | Updated 10/07/2013 10:12 BST

It must be tough being a graduate at the moment. Unemployment among university leavers is at a record high - yet even where jobs are available, businesses are quick to criticise the skills of those spending thousands of pounds on their education. A recent report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, claims that young people do not have the skills businesses need. But instead of lowering our expectations of young people - as the report's conclusions imply - we need to learn how to upskill them. This is impossible unless we build a closer relationship between business and higher education.

While graduates often have a deep knowledge about the subject they studied at university, many have little experience or understanding of the world of work. With competition for jobs more intense than ever, and students demanding more for their money from their degrees, this split between business and education, between academic and vocational, between the theory and the practical is long past its sell by date.

Bridging the gap between the two means a much more active role for leading companies in the education of young people. We should be doing everything we can to encourage businesses to participate. Identifying and developing enterprising minds who then graduate ready for work is of mutual benefit - it should be a no brainer.

The HE system needs to be made more educationally diverse. For students who want to succeed in business, a purely academic degree might not always be the best choice. Academic theory without a sophisticated understanding of how it works in practice is not much use to employers. We need graduates with both. Students should be given more choice about who designs and delivers their degrees. We're adding to that choice by being the first FTSE-100 company to offer degrees. And we're lucky because we have lots of other companies working with us in the design and delivery of the programmes so students benefit not just from our experience but from the business community more generally.

We think our BSc (Hons) Business and Enterprise provides a model for collaboration - business and industry have been included at every step of the design of the degrees. But their contribution does not stop at the door - leading employers continue to be involved in the delivery of lectures and workshops. So far we've engaged global companies such as BT, Cisco, L'Oreal, Nationwide and Sony Pictures as well as many SME and start-up companies to ensure that degrees respond to the needs of their industries - and business more broadly. This approach allows students to be immersed - physically, as well as mentally - in the corporate world from day one of their studies.

This year's intake has been able to engage in a Brandstorm project with L'Oreal. Students are tasked with developing a marketing strategy to further expand L'Oreal in South East Asia - giving them the opportunity to put what they have learnt about marketing into practice on a global stage. Senior executives at L'Oreal review the students' strategies, which in turn drives students' experience in preparation for the workplace. And we're thrilled to find our very first intake have won the UK national finals - competing against a whole range of top academic institutions including Exeter, Cambridge and Warwick.

Students clearly benefit from this type of collaboration. But there are lots of other ways businesses can contribute, and we have found them willing to do so provided you understand their needs and time constraints. Businesses can provide internships to build a student's workplace skills and personal mentors who work 'at the coal face', to help sharpen a student's business minds. In short students can experience a radically new approach to learning where instead of studying business within a traditional academic community; they are studying business from within the business community. In today's economic climate, an academically rigorous degree is still important - and partnering with an established university, like Pearson has done is one way to do this - but students also need to learn how academic learning is applied in a professional context.

Much more can be done to bridge the gap between business and higher education - and both should be encouraged to do so because everyone is set to benefit: from the employers who need enriched, loyal employees, to the students who leave university with the skills they need to succeed in the world of business. It's a win-win situation.