Academe gets military call-up

September 23, 2005

Britain's military top brass this week urged universities to set up more undergraduate courses in cultural studies, languages and conflict prevention and called for closer links between academe and the Armed Forces.

Lieutenant-General Sir John Kiszely, director of the UK's Defence Academy, was due to tell a conference of 120 senior university figures that a better understanding of "our mutual needs" was needed to match the changing nature of military activities.

Sir John said: "The Armed Forces see their role in future not just in the war-fighting arena but, because of the fast-changing strategic security environment, also in peace support operations such as counterinsurgency, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

"But in this increasingly complex, uncertain and ambiguous environment there is a greater need for education, Sir John told the conference at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham, near Swindon.

He said: "It can only be prepared for by a combination of education and training.

"It's in pursuit of this educational requirement for these much more diverse operations, such as understanding culture and language, that universities may have a contribution to make."

Sir John added that education was "key to developing the mental agility and knowledge" needed by the Armed Forces and that the Ministry of Defence wanted to identify "cost-effective" means of meeting its educational aims.

Ironically, the type of university course that the MoD deems necessary matches the non-scientific courses on the Government's list of "strategic subjects at risk of closure".

This year, the Higher Education Funding Council for England recommended the retention of expertise in minority languages or area studies in one or two "centres of excellence" in the UK.

Don Touhig, a Junior Defence Minister who was due to speak at the conference, said: "Universities already play a key role in helping us meet these challenges but, to date, we have only scratched the surface. The MoD and universities need a better understanding of our mutual needs."

Michael Sterling, chair of the Russell Group, said the MoD needed to stimulate demand for strategic subjects - by offering bursaries and scholarships, for example - if new undergraduate courses were to be established.

Philip Davies, chair of the University Council for Area Studies Associations, said that people who teach and carry out research across the spectrum of interests that make up area studies would agree that Government policy should be based on solid evidence and depth of understanding.

"This doesn't mean academics have to agree with Government policy, just that they want it to be well founded."

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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