Business cashes in 2

August 3, 2007

The predictable enthusiasm of Government and university managements for the business-oriented aspects of the Leitch report ("Embrace Leitch or lose out to FE, sector warned", July 20) needs to be qualified with a dose of realism. The mantra of "skills for employment", coupled with the idea that employers should "exert real leverage" over the content and delivery of programmes, comes very close to a serious interference with the proper exercise of academic freedom and increases the risk of the kind of cost-cutting privatisation that has threatened quality in higher and further education in recent years.

While there is a role for accountable links between HE and business, and a need for much greater investment by business and industry in the educational provision from which they benefit, these cannot be seen as a free ride for private enterprise to impose its agendas on university teaching and research.

Many programmes have tried and tested links with business and industry, and academics are much more aware of the vocational needs of students and the skills that enhance employability than is often recognised. It would be regrettable if the gung-ho consumerism of the Government, and the rush to cash in on what may turn out to be the fool's gold of commercial partnerships, were to discredit what is already achieved on a daily basis, and make it more difficult for sound relationships with the world of employment to be sustained and developed. Neither Leitch today, nor Dearing a decade ago, should be seen as a quick fix for the ills of a system that is suffering not so much from a deficit of commercial acumen as a deficit in proper funding.

Alastair G. Hunter
Vice-president (HE), UCU

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