Protesters disrupt business-link conference

May 14, 2009

Student protesters stormed the stage at a knowledge-transfer conference and demanded an end to the close relationship between universities and business.

The students, who were representing the campaign group "Education Not For Sale", read out a statement saying: "The organisers of this conference want to use our collective resources, our public services, to prop up an unfair system. Financial crisis has shown us that we can't trust the profit mongers ... Don't give our education system wholesale to business."

When the students were asked to leave they refused and, amid scuffles, they were forcibly removed by security guards.

The conference was debating how universities could help pull the UK out of recession by working with businesses. Responding to the protest, one delegate asked: "Don't they want a job after graduation?"

Conference organiser Philip Graham, executive director of the Association of University Research and Industry Links, said the students had shown "a limited understanding".

He added: "If the economy isn't strengthened, there's going to be less public money ... Economic regeneration is good for society in general."

Meanwhile, Jonathan Kestenbaum, chief executive of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, predicted that knowledge transfer would become "the driver of the UK economy". He told delegates: "I think that's a huge shift for public policy, but I also think it's a huge shift for you in this room."

Mr Kestenbaum added that the UK economy would rely on healthcare, pharmaceuticals, low-carbon technologies and digital media, "all of which have in common a dependence on a world-class higher education system".

David Sweeney, director for research, innovation and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said universities were now the "engines of recovery".

That view was reiterated in a Council for Industry and Higher Education pamphlet, Rebuilding Britain, distributed this week.

"The future is being rewritten in atomic, digital and genetic codes, and the development and application of knowledge via brainpower will determine our futures," it says.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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