Key skills are a capitalist issue

November 14, 1997

UNIVERSITIES will never be able to define and assess a set of "key skills" acceptable to industry, an Institute of Education report will warn later this month, writes Phil Baty.

The report's author, David Guile, said: "It wouldn't matter if there was national agreement about a way of measuring and standardising key skills within degree programmes, employers will always use their own measures and recruitment practices."

The report's findings emerged as education secretary David Blunkett announced plans for a skills taskforce, at this week's Confederation of British Industry conference. He said he was setting aside Pounds 150,000 to help forge greater links with industry in higher education. The task force would bring together leaders from business, education and training to identify and tackle skills shortages.

But the report found that attempts to list key skills requirements by business groups such as the CBI would never reach consensus. "The moment you open into specific definitions you end up with people screaming 'that's not what we asked for'," Professor Guile said.

The report will recommend that a "skills framework" be set up between business and education. There must be a "broader-based strategy for debating and trying to resolve the key skill question", it says. An emphasis on key skills must not threaten students' intellectual development and most not be open to accusations that standards are slipping, Professor Guile said. Formal assessment of such skills may also be irrelevant, as they would not translate into a universal employment passport.

"Rather than debate a definitive list of key skills, where no employers agree, we must find a way to articulate what existing provision can be built on, and what part employers can play," he said.

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