Leader: Industry and HE should be tailor-made allies

April 18, 2003

If a union launched industrial action on the basis of a 25 per cent turnout, it would be castigated (rightly) by employers. Yet that is the proportion of Confederation of British Industry members who responded to a survey that will be used in the coming months as evidence of an ivory-tower mentality in higher education that requires fundamental change.

Education secretary Charles Clarke was quoting the survey's criticism of university management weeks before its publication.

What the survey actually showed was that most of the companies that responded were actively involved with universities, many sponsoring students and chairs as well as benefiting from research. Important issues were raised about intellectual property rights and some universities' lines of communication, but the responses did not suggest a crisis of confidence.

The CBI suffers from the same "broad church" structure that constrains Universities UK when the constituent parts of higher education have different interests. Recently, for example, one branch of industry complained that degree courses focus too much on core skills such as teamworking at the expense of scientific content, while this survey implies that universities should instil "business awareness". Interaction between business and academe will never be a national system; it is up to both individual companies and universities to explore mutual benefits.

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