TECH
09/09/2011 06:30 BST | Updated 08/11/2011 05:12 GMT

UK Tech Charity: Schmidt Was Right, UK Education Must Change

Eric Schmidt was right when he said UK tech and science education is failing to produce well-rounded, adaptable graduates, according to one UK educational charity. The New Engineering Foundation (NEF) say the UK education system is failing to deliver quality graduates to industry, and business is having to pick up the pieces.

Professor Sa’ad Medhat, chief executive of the NEF is calling for drastic action: “Dissolve specific institutions for specific skills, do away with little silos of education, let's have less delineation between disciplines and add transferable, employability skills to qualifications."

According to Medhat, colleges and universities are funded by the number of qualified graduates they turn out, not the quality of graduates and that must change.

He adds: "The fundamental issue is that institutions focus on a specific areas, and create tiny silos of learning in overly specific areas such as mechanical engineering skills. Funding is based on qualifications as opposed to outcomes. Providers don’t have all the up-to-date knowledge and technology that graduates will actually work with in the real world, the employer does. And so the employer, the customer of the institutions, are left to re-educate the graduate and fill in the gaps.”

In his Mactaggart lecture speech to the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Schmidt said: "Over the past century, the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. You need to bring art and science back together.

With reference to the Victorian era, he said: "It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges," he said. "Lewis Carroll didn't just write one of the classic fairytales of all time. He was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford. James Clerk Maxwell was described by Einstein as among the best physicists since Newton – but was also a published poet."

Medhat’s charity specialises in educating institutions about what STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) need from graduates. They work with companies like Nissan, RSRL a nuclear decommissioning company, Unilever, Microsoft, Sellafield, BASF and over 200 colleges including City and Islington, South Devon and Macclesfield colleges.

“The problem is, our education system is qualification centric, not learning centric. It’s too rigid and it doesn’t respond to a quickly changing market,” he said.

Medhat diverges from Schmidt on one point: “Schmidt has not considered the wealth of technical vocational courses at Colleges of Further Education (FE) that encourage highly technical training of learners as young as 16 or even 14 years old. Places where education is delivering the right mix of skills that Schmidt highlighted in his speech include Imperial College London, South Devon University, City and Islington College, and abroad, several US and Australian institutions,” said Medhat.

Since 2002, Medhat has been campaigning on the issue, and has a clear set of solutions for the problem:

• Educational curriculum that encourages young people to think and develop cognitive abilities

• Learning opportunities that are designed to develop intelligence, building analytical and creative minds

• Fewer, broader qualifications

• A curriculum first, assessment second approach

• Increased focus on ‘soft skills’ for employability, and sharp attitudes for enterprise

• Instilling the idea that hard work is needed for success

• Target kids at school age so they can better plan their own paths much earlier than at the school leaving stage.