Bristol's v-c shifts focus to careers

August 31, 2001

The University of Bristol plans to shift its academic balance in favour of producing more employable graduates. Its new vice-chancellor will conduct a year-long, university-wide consultation on the plans.

Eric Thomas said: "Should the University of Bristol produce a highly trained mind or should we be more sensitive to employers' needs? Entrepreneurial skills will be required by employers in the next ten years, and most people do not carry on in the subject that they read at university."

The university also plans to broaden the social structure of its intake.

In the most recent performance indicators, Bristol came third to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in having the most students from independent schools. Just 57 per cent of its young full-time undergraduates came from state schools and colleges. Given its subject mix, 73 per cent ought to do so.

Professor Thomas said: "We took only 200 students from the Bristol postcode area last year. We have summer schools to widen participation, and we reach out to local schools. I have talked to the local headteachers and want to bring them into the university.

"Students see Bristol as beyond their target. We are sending our students to places such as Sunderland and Birmingham. Central London could also be one of our targets in future."

To widen participation and achieve other aims, Bristol needs to raise some cash. Professor Thomas does not expect to see government funds for such work.

He said: "Did the introduction of tuition fees increase the pot of money for higher education? The answer is no or marginal. The money went elsewhere.

"So whether or not the student pays (top-up fees) is not relevant to our business. If the student pays more but the money doesn't go to the university, then the university doesn't benefit.

"At the ballot box, people vote for low direct taxes. Society has decided that it doesn't want to pay collectively for higher education. The benefits of higher education are bestowed on those who undertake it.

"We need alumni contributions, particularly for non-hypothecated income. We need to tie our alumni into the university so that they see the university as part of their future, not their past."

Professor Thomas, who was previously deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, takes over as vice-chancellor tomorrow.

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