When Sir Tim Wilson, former vice-chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, said in his Review of Business-University Collaboration that universities should spend more fair-access money on internships, he echoed the view that higher education should play a major role in making students more employable.
If companies do not fund student internships, he reasoned, universities should subsidise them. This would be beneficial for the UK's economic growth. Ian Morton, campaigns manager at Universities UK, agrees. On a post for the Universities UK blog, he says government measures such as the continued support for the Higher Education Innovation Fund, which is now worth £150 million a year, have helped spur growth.
"A recent report sponsored by [the Higher Education Funding Council for England] estimated that for every £1 of Heif investment, there is a return of £6 in gross additional knowledge exchange income." However, he adds, "overall investment in [research and development]...still lags behind our competitors, regardless of the fact that we are a world leader when it comes to research."
His suggestion is to ensure greater collaboration between universities and industry. "Stimulating growth in the economy is a major challenge for the coalition government, and key to this will be the extent to which we can foster closer relationships between universities and business," Mr Morton says.
"Another challenge at the moment is stimulating private R&D and investment. Creating the right tax and fiscal environment, so that it is attractive to invest, will be crucial. This also extends to wider regulation concerns and the impact of, for example, government immigration policy."
He cites the Wilson review, which claims that "if the potential of UK business-university collaboration is fulfilled, universities would be firmly at the heart of the economy, generating the wealth that is necessary for a healthy and prosperous society."
But in a related blog, Tom Crick, senior lecturer in computer science at Cardiff Metropolitan University, says industry sometimes does not give the academy its due and simply expects it to come up with the research goods to turn into profit.
He begins a post on his blog Computing: The Science of Nearly Everything with a comic strip by the academic cartoonist Randall Munroe about the varying reactions academics can expect when they have come up with novel research. Essentially, the industry response is for them to do more of business' work.
"I think there is an important point to be made about reconciling the traditional aims of education and the modern needs of industry," Dr Crick writes. "I understand that there is an imperative to equip our graduates to be useful members of the nation's workforce. However, higher education should not be conflated with training - the onus should be on industry to train their workforce, especially if they require specific skillsets.
"Clearly we have to be aware of the requirements of industry in a general sense, but I would much prefer to develop a graduate who is capable of applying their existing knowledge and [of] learning new skills, rather than one who only has specific (and perhaps transient) skills and understanding."
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