When the coalition government aimed to push apprenticeships up the public agenda, Lord Bhattacharyya, chairman and founder of WMG at the University of Warwick, hoped that it would change what he sees as a sometimes negative attitude in the UK towards highly skilled professions. Lord Bhattacharyya believes that this mentality has allowed industries to strengthen in other countries and weaken in the UK. Despite signs that the mindset in the UK is beginning to change, he believes that there is still a long way to go.
WMG, formerly known as Warwick Manufacturing Group, is aiming to be part of the change. A number of recent developments are aimed at working with businesses to develop the UK’s skills base – to the benefit of the economy, Lord Bhattacharyya believes.
“In Britain today, we still have a huge shortage of skills base in the manufacturing industry,” the Labour peer told Times Higher Education. “You want to increase the number of manufacturing companies in the UK, but one of the biggest barriers to that is getting the skills base.
“You have countries like Japan that train their employees themselves. In this country, we’re reducing the further education colleges’ staff – places where this training takes place.”
The WMG Academy for Young Engineers, a university technical college, was opened in September last year, aiming to “turn the traditional approach to education on its head by putting real, business-focused, practical problems and challenges at the centre of the curriculum”, says the academy’s website.
WMG’s ever-strengthening relationship with Jaguar Land Rover, based in Coventry, is another key element in its drive to develop skills. Two years ago, WMG announced an agreement to teach up to 600 JLR staff to degree level in product engineering and manufacturing engineering.
Last month, the first master’s student on the Technical Accreditation Scheme – set up in 2010 by Warwick and JLR to deliver skills development in specific key technical disciplines – graduated and JLR staff passed 200,000 hours of study on the programme.
“When I was involved in looking at JLR and how they grow the company I knew, fundamentally, [that] they had the intellectual base but there was a lack of skill base,” said Lord Bhattacharyya. “The next question is, who’s going to train them, who’s going to give them the qualifications?
“I said to them, ‘we’ll develop a programme for you to do a degree of the same level of any Warwick qualification, in exactly the same way, but we’ll do it while you’re working’. I don’t want them to have a second-class qualification, I want exactly the same qualification as the engineers from this university or any university will get. We have a team of people developing curricula.
“Now we’ve taken it further, we’ve said to all JLR managers that they can now register for a degree. So anyone who doesn’t have one can. Then, we said to all people who have degrees [that] they can register for a master’s. A few of them have even registered for doctorates. I really want a totally symbiotic relationship between Warwick WMG and the sector [manufacturing industry].”
The relationship has developed so far that JLR recently set up the Jaguar Learning Academy, based at WMG, to train and upskill its employees so that they can migrate up the chain in the company.
Lord Bhattacharyya believes that this is another important rung on the ladder for improving the UK’s manufacturing skills base.
“I wanted to make sure [courses were] available to any new apprentice, any new graduate and any youngsters that come to the company,” he said. “There’s a huge infrastructure operating [at WMG]. Not just for JLR, although it is the lead. We also have Network Rail, Rolls-Royce and various other [companies] sending their people in for these courses.”
Lord Bhattacharyya said that the JLR partnership has ambitious targets including training every single apprentice that comes through the company and that universities have a responsibility to help improve the UK’s technical skills.
“They’re now taking 600 apprenticeships each year. They’re taking 700 undergraduates this year, and on top of that they’ve got 2,000 to 3,000 people coming into the company as managers. So it’s a huge programme,” he said. “That is why we had to set up the proper infrastructure for this to happen, not in a random manner.”
And Lord Bhattacharyya emphasised the role of businesses and universities working together on funding.
“I didn’t go to the government for money,” he continued. “I said to the companies: ‘you need the skills base, and if you want it and the government isn’t providing, let’s work jointly together and provide it. If not, they [businesses] will go abroad. If [universities] don’t motivate the sector, where are we going to get the skills base?”
200,000 – hours of study clocked up by students on WMG-Jaguar Land Rover technical skills course
Students are to receive one free e-book per module to help them lower their study costs. Middlesex University has decided to roll out the scheme to students after a successful pilot in the business and law schools last year. The books are selected by module leaders, and the university estimates that the scheme will save students an average of £450 over the course of a three-year degree programme.
Canterbury Christ Church University
Human rights, racism, fundamentalism and environmental protection will all be discussed in a series of public lectures hosted by a university over the next year. Canterbury Christ Church will host figures including the children’s author Michael Morpurgo, who will discuss how to write about the environment for young people, and the campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, who will discuss threats to the UK’s democratic institutions. The university will host five talks in total, running from September until March 2016.
The portrayal of intimacy between characters in video games was debated at a university-promoted festival. Cara Ellison, a video games writer, discussed the issue at Dare ProtoPlay, which was held in Dundee from 13 to 16 August and was founded by Abertay University. The event also serves as the finale of Abertay’s Dare to be Digital game design competition, which involves 16 teams of students from different universities. Ms Ellison said that intimacy between characters was often lacking in video games. “People really love games that give that to us and this makes those games memorable,” she said.
Artists will be able to create their own holograms at a Glyndwr University research centre. The Centre for Ultra-Realistic Imaging, a partnership with Anglo-Lithuanian laser manufacturer Geola, will carry out research into applied photonics, imaging and holography. The equipment will also be made available to artists in a move that was described as “unique” by Ardie Osanlou, the head of the centre. “The collaboration between art and science…has been made possible by the university’s expertise within both fields,” Dr Osanlou said.
London School of Economics
London could become a city of residential skyscrapers unless existing planning laws are altered, an urban economist has said. With outward expansion prevented by policies to protect the green belt, the UK capital will need to grow vertically as the population increases, said Gabriel Ahlfeldt, associate professor of urban economics and land development at the London School of Economics. In a paper titled “The vertical city: the price of land and the height of buildings in Chicago 1970-2010”, he compared London’s situation to Chicago’s, where “architects, developers and planners seem intent on winning the prize for the highest build”.
Goldsmiths, University of London
Homeopathy, fairies, satanic panics and paranormal powers are among the topics to discussed by academics at the 16th annual European Skeptics Congress. Taking place at Goldsmiths, University of London between 11 and 13 September, the conference will seek to “promote rational thinking and enquiry, and engage in debate on pseudoscience, religion and the paranormal”. Science broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili, president of the British Humanist Association, will give the keynote speech at the conference, which will also welcome speakers on sleep paralysis, magic and conspiracy theories.
Edge Hill University
A university is joining forces with Glasgow-based independent publisher Freight Books to launch its own literary press. Edge Hill University Press has secured initial funding for four years and four books. The first – an anthology of authors previously shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize – will be released next summer. Well-known writers such as Neil Gaiman, A. L. Kennedy, Ali Smith and Colm Tóibín have already been confirmed as contributors. There will also be internships for six students a year, who will get a chance to gain real publishing industry experience.
Liverpool John Moores University
A university has announced the first winner of a year-long fellowship giving a new journalism graduate the opportunity to work at Index on Censorship magazine and website. The Liverpool John Moores University/Tim Hetherington Fellowship is named after a photojournalist, film-maker and artist who devoted much of his life to defending freedom of expression. The award, co-sponsored by both LJMU and Index and won by Josie Timms in its first year, will give the winner a chance to write about authors, journalists and artists around the world who face pressure and persecution designed to restrict what they can say.