Focus on business to survive the downturn, says Bucks New University v-c

Academics must learn lessons from industry to prepare students for a harsh new world. Lee Bunce reports

June 24, 2009

Academics must be prepared to learn from business if their institutions are to survive the ongoing economic crisis, Ruth Farwell, chair-elect of GuildHE, has warned.

Speaking at the Sustaining Higher Education Funding 2009 event in London on Tuesday, Professor Farwell, vice-chancellor of Bucks New University, questioned the ability of some academics to prepare students for the world of employment.

She told delegates that universities must focus more on the needs of students and employers if they are to meet the economy’s requirements.

She also suggested that more people from industry might need to be brought in to teach academics new skills in order to serve the businesses their disciplines are most relevant to.

Professor Farwell said: “Part of this is about academics being ready to work with business and industry around the enterprise agenda, and then bring that experience back into their work with students.

“The problem is that many academics’ experience of business is quite dated, if they have any at all. That is not a tenable position for the future.

“Much could be done through the links that universities are developing with employers. Often you will find that businesses are prepared to send someone to help develop university staff.”

Professor Farwell went on to suggest that teaching staff may also be expected to adopt more flexible working patterns in response to the downturn, including less time spent on lectures and more on interactive learning.

She said: “A rigid interpretation of the national teaching contract will not help institutions support the kind of flexible learning that today’s students demand and need.”

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