Full speed ahead for new degrees to suit business

Tailor-made courses to fill local skills gaps will also bring in much-needed cash. Hannah Fearn reports

June 17, 2010

As universities across the globe strive to prove their economic impact, one UK institution has devised a radical way to ensure it is indispensable to local businesses.

Academics at Bucks New University are being asked to develop new degree programmes in a matter of months to respond to the needs of local businesses partnering with the institution.

The "pop-up" degrees are designed to plug local skills gaps by meeting companies' immediate needs - a model that, if successful, could be copied by universities across the world.

Bucks New University has created new postgraduate qualifications in as little as nine months from the first discussion with businesses to students enrolling on campus. Professor Chris Kemp, pro vice-chancellor and executive dean of the Faculty of Design, Media and Management, said the strategy of creating new qualifications responsive to local businesses would also help support the institution through the future funding crisis.

Businesses are willing to pay for staff to study and to give up time to help teach the courses. "It really comes to the fore when you look at the way we are funded, and the reduction of the funding streams we have," Professor Kemp said.

He emphasised that speed of delivery was the most important factor. "The response has to be fairly quick and of high quality. A lot of our programmes are work-based so they have to be up to date ... They are calling for courses to be tailor-made - they don't want them to be off-the-shelf. We need to respond to individual companies' needs because we work so closely with industry."

The move follows similar work in Scotland. The University of Abertay Dundee offers specialist degrees tailored to meet the needs of the computer gaming industry. The institution recently told the Scottish government that university responsiveness to business would be essential for the Scottish economy.

Bucks New is focusing on providing degrees to support skills gaps within the growing industries in Buckinghamshire, including the creative industries, high technology and cloud computing, professional and financial services and the security industry. "We should be responding to fit trends, including the demographic changes that are taking place and the emergence of the digital economy," Professor Kemp said.

The university designs one-day "taster modules" to attract interest from prospective students. Modules are then created working with further education colleges in the area. Those students interested in postgraduate tuition are then encouraged to sign up for a master's degree, created with the help of these industries.

Professor Kemp said that critics would suggest that the university was getting involved in training for the workplace, rather than academia. He rejected such suggestions.

"Most people who come from industry already have the practical skills but what they need is the theoretical skills. This is about education. This isn't training, it's an academic underpinning to the experiential learning they already have," he said.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com

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