Letter: Economic follies (1)

October 26, 2001

As a business person, I am deeply concerned about the directive given to universities on October 22 by the secretary of state for education.

Estelle Morris told universities to work more closely with regional development agencies and local industry groups to produce research and teaching that is "relevant" to industry. Students must be trained with reference to the local needs of the labour market.

This philosophy of prediction and planning for future economic "needs", let alone local needs, is theoretically and empirically bankrupt.

My own company is a small consultancy looking at innovative ways to analyse business, economic and social questions. We have employed not economists, but mathematicians and physicists. The precise content of their student courses is irrelevant.

The success of our business depends on the purely abstract capacity of our staff to think clearly and analytically. These are the skills we need, rather than a specific stock of knowledge that may become rapidly outdated in entirely unpredictable ways.

Paul Ormerod

Director, Volterra Consulting London

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