Keep up the good work: Willetts

Wilson response sees limited role for Whitehall in industry/academy links. Elizabeth Gibney reports

June 28, 2012

Universities and businesses - rather than government - must lead efforts to increase collaboration and boost economic growth, the universities and science minister David Willetts has said.

Launching the government's response to the Review of Business-University Collaboration on 26 June, Mr Willetts said the government would encourage the use of sandwich courses, work with graduate employers and support a centre to oversee engagement.

But he said the review, led by the former vice-chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, Sir Tim Wilson, recognised that it was not an area where there were "large amounts of levers and instructions to come from Whitehall".

"A lot of it is to do with collaboration and cooperation and growing links between universities and businesses. [Many] proposals in this report are for a number of agencies apart from government and I think that's a very realistic and sensible approach," he said.

The government's plans include supporting a National Centre for Universities and Business to strengthen engagement between the two sectors and provide evidence on their interaction.

The centre will be run by the Council for Industry and Higher Education and a steering group, with initial funding of £50,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and parallel bodies in the devolved administrations. Mr Willetts said the government would also work with graduate employers to increase the use of the Higher Education Achievement Report.

The report - originally mooted as a replacement for the honours degree classification system - gives full details of students' achievements over three years and is intended to encourage employers to expand their talent pool "beyond the 2.1", he said.

Other measures include putting a cap of 15 per cent on the annual course fee for sandwich years, in response to the Wilson report's recommendation of a £1,000 maximum, and extending the life of the online internship resource, the Graduate Talent Pool.

Lacking in the government's response was any commitment to strengthening Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, a scheme through which graduates work in industry.

KTPs were recommended by Sir Tim as a scheme that had been "proven to work".

But the number of partnerships, which are overseen by the Technology Strategy Board, has fallen over the past two years as matched funding by the regional development agencies has been withdrawn.

Mr Willetts told Times Higher Education that although he remained "pro KTPs", the total number had been affected by inevitable spending constraints.

"But we're keeping them going and we think they are effective," he said.

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