Call to make students work-wise

February 2, 1996

University students need to complete a vocational course alongside a degree if they are to meet the requirements of employers, according to the pressure group Industry in Education.

According to a report Towards Employability, the "unemployability" of young people costs Britain Pounds 8 billion each year.

Dick Whitcutt, director of IIE and a former head of Cambridge University's Programme in Industry, said: "There should be programmes akin to a sandwich course. They would be equivalent to an extended work placement. They would give the historian, say, some experience of business and industry."

Mr Whitcutt added that the course "could lie alongside or be taken immediately after a degree".

The idea that employment skills could be easily integrated into university degree programmes - something promoted by the Government through the Enterprise in Higher Education initiative - is "absurd", Mr Whitcutt said.

"We don't think degrees should be polluted by courses which are quite irrelevant to the intellectual discipline.

"To give a mathematician a third when he was on for a first because he did not do well on some employment elements would be absurd."

But Dai John, deputy vice chancellor of Luton University, which is running a "skills in the curriculum" conference next week, said that "unless you give some credit for certain basic competencies, you won't get students to appreciate their importance".

He opposed "bolt-on courses", agreeing with the IIE that they can "debase the integrity of the subject", but suggested that introducing skills into the curriculum was mainly a case of "making explicit what is implicit in a course".

Dr John spoke in terms of "core skills". But the report by Industry in Education, whose trustees include Dixons chairman Sir Stanley Kalms and former Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Sir John Smith, also said that the idea of "core skills" - which has been backed by the Confederation of British Industry - should be abandoned and replaced by the notion of "employability qualities".

This embraces not just knowledge and understanding, but also behavioural traits like diligence, proactivity and general "attitude to work".

Towards Employability is available from IIE, 100 West Hill, London, SW15 2UT.

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