The views from the platform

February 7, 1997

Four speakers at the conference outline their visions of graduates of the future

Sir Iain Vallance

Sir Iain will set the scene for the conference by looking at the changes we are experiencing and will experience over the next few decades. He will consider both the form and causes of the forces that are reshaping businesses and the environment in which they operate.

He will contend that it is the responsibility of business to state clearly what it needs to help it meet these challenges and will suggest some key skills and attributes that employees of the future will need and the businesses of the future will value. These will be a combination of specific skills, and also perhaps more importantly, attitudes and dispositions. He will review the links that exist between business and education and, while acknowledging that the bridges have not always been in place, he will stress the need for dialogue and that there are many interested parties who should be included.

While recognising the concerns that business may have about the costs of training and development, both in terms of time and money, Sir lain will suggest that technology has a role in improving accessibility at reasonable cost. The risks of not undertaking training are too great to contemplate.

He will conclude by suggesting that there cannot just be links between business and higher education; his remarks are equally true for younger and older students and their educators; learning cannot and should not end as formal education concludes. Changes in work patterns also mean that it will not be just a question of educating students for the working environment, but also for wider citizenship.

Sir Iain Vallance is chairman of BT.

Michael Fowle

It was Disraeli who said: "Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of the country depends." This has an even greater ring of truth in today's competitive world. Education in its broadest sense is the route of true competitive advantage. Critical to our business is the provision of the most able people to service our clients. Clients judge KPMG on the quality of the people who deliver service and on the opinions that those people provide.

KPMG is seeking to recruit graduates who have real breadth and who want to continue to develop opportunities for broadening their skills. This means people who have a passion for lifelong learning and development. Those individuals also need to be team players and ultimately team leaders. The talk outlines the other skills that KPMG is seeking from those it recruits.

The good news is that there are students who have these skills but the bad news is that there are not enough of them. Universities and colleges therefore need more than ever before to relate their learning experience to the world of work. To do this they need to build relationships with employers, to work hand in hand with them to secure more work-based learning, more job placements, more project work, more involvement from local managers and student supervision, in imparting relevant experience into courses and even jointly designing some courses. In KPMG the benefits of such involvement in employment is very clear in the recruitment process.

Higher education institutions cannot be all things to all men. Business has in recent years focused more and more on core strengths and operations and higher education too will have to focus on strengths and use partnerships and joint venture arrangements to buy in specialisms which cannot be catered for locally. Education is, after all, a business. a multinational and multimillion pound business. Ultimately it is a business where excellence will determine which departments and institutions survive just as in other areas of business. Universities cannot afford to deliver all courses and some departments do not have sufficient critical mass or sufficient expertise to carry on as they are. They consume resources which may be better used elsewhere in developing excellence. Partnerships are surely the way to optimise the use of such scarce resources. Quality, so important to our economy, can only come from institutions which are focused on delivering the highest quality from every department, from every course and every module.

Michael Fowle is senior regional partner, KPMG.

Keith Taylor

Industry is not homogeneous and there can be no single or simple answer to what employers really need from higher education. However, in a period of increasing globalisation and new technologies, UKplc requires flexibility and adaptability from all employees. Hence, the need for a lifelong approach to learning has never been more urgent.

The building blocks of appropriate knowledge, the ability to learn for oneself, the development of key skills (including management) and a better understanding of science, technology and engineering, need to be developed in schools and then reinforced and added to in further and higher education.

It is then for employers to provide the framework and support for a lifelong approach to learning for their employees, and to work closely with further and higher education to take these building blocks forward. If jobs cannot be guaranteed, then employers have a responsibility and a need to help their staff develop the key transferable skills required to face an uncertain future. The past 20 years has seen the decline of many companies and whole sectors which have lacked the capability of responding rapidly enough to change.

If employers have responsibilities then so do others. Top-flight careers and educational guidance is needed at all stages. New models of industry/higher education partnerships need to be developed both for initial learning and for continuous professional development. New funding approaches may be required, so that individuals can dip in and out of both further and higher education throughout their lives. Individuals need to take greater responsibility for their learning and have the commitment to want to go on learning throughout life. Hence we want people who have been taught how to learn.

Neither can we neglect the development of teachers. Unless they have a better and direct understanding, through exposure to the way we operate, and to the responsibilities and expectations we place on our staff, we cannot expect them to appreciate what is needed. We need to broaden the experiences of teachers as well as increasing the quality and quantity of the work experience we give to students. The talk will illuminate the business case for a lifelong approach to learning, what it looks like in practice in Esso and other companies, and what it is likely to look like in the future.

Keith Taylor is chairman of Esso UK plc.

Sir Douglas Hague

There are two distinct cultures in universities. An "intellectual" culture is concerned largely with the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake. A "professional" culture, for example in engineering and business schools, aims to improve performance in one's career.

Businesses do care about the quality of "intellectual" courses. Perhaps surprisingly, training in philosophy or nuclear physics is often the basis for a successful general career. But too few academics are interested in how students learn, leaving business to make up for their failings. Similarly, "intellectual" research is too dominated by backward-and-inward-looking academic peer groups. This always matters, but is serious in fields like economics where universities contribute too little to discussing current developments. Worst, the "intellectual" cultures give inadequate recognition to professional schools, even in their own universities. Universities should tackle this cultural divide, which is worsened by the misguided decision to turn polytechnics into universities. Universities have moved away from, rather than closer to, business.

Professional schools are affected because the criteria by which HEFCE assesses both teaching and research are not forward-looking enough even for intellectual subjects and are positively harmful through making teaching and research, even in professional subjects, too out of date and academic.

I should like to see the following. Much more separation of the intellectual and professional cultures, with the creation of high-quality 21st century polytechnics. Much more interest throughout higher education in the processes of learning. Much less support for established academic peer groups, and more for younger, less conventional researchers. Much more enlightened application of developments in information and communications technology. Much more flexible degrees covering longer periods of an individual's life. Much more openness to an outside world where knowledge is increasingly a traded commodity, through collaboration with business in course design, teaching, tutoring and research. Much more understanding of the crucial role being played in Britain by "knowledge entrepreneurs" and much stronger links between them and higher education. Finally, Norman Stone (Sunday Times, February 2, 1997) has called for the privatisation of Oxford University. Why leave it there? Why not them all?

Sir Douglas Hague CBE is associate fellow and chairman, institute for creative direction, Templeton College, Oxford.

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