Ministers are to press universities to teach basic employability skills as an "explicit" part of the curriculum. The recommendation will be made in a report out next week.
Institutions that fail to embrace the skills agenda will be "seen as seriously remiss" and lecturers should be "required" to integrate work skills into teaching, it says.
The report by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers is published jointly by the Department for Education and Employment and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. It recommends institutions should:
* build skills into the curriculum
* expand work experience
* include employers, students and other stakeholders in setting the skills agenda
* allow employers to influence skills training programmes.
Pressure for change comes despite the report finding an "absence of conclusive proof" that work skills training makes graduates more attractive to employers or gives the economy a more competitive edge.
Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett has already reassured business leaders that their demands for better equipped graduates will be heeded. He told the Confederation of British Industry annual conference last week that more basic skills will be built into universities' curricula.
He is expected to use publication next Monday of the report, Skills Development in Higher Education, to flesh out his plans.
He said his department and the Department of Trade and Industry would set up a fund with the higher education funding councils to support work skills and "improve the application of academic knowledge to the needs of employers".
It is unclear how the fund will operate. HEFCE said no proposals had been put to its board. The DTI appears to be taking the lead ,and more details will be published in its Competitiveness white paper in early December.
Next week's report will recommend that work skills are built in to academic programmes, rather than bolted on. Lecturers should be "required" to integrate job skills into their teaching, the report will recommend, although the Dearing report noted that this method would be expensive and have an impact on courses.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report will also point out challenges posed to traditional academic autonomy by implementing the skills agenda, and the costs and "hurdles" for institutions.
The "dominance of the research agenda" in some institutions will also create a hurdle, as will the failure on the part of many universities to "recognise excellence in teaching" in promotions systems.
Leader, page 14