The Midlands is ahead of the game when it comes to business and universities working together to include the skills of the workforce according to director of Warwick Manufacturing Group Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya.
Indeed he suggested Warwick University, at the forefront of such initiatives since the 1980s, was effectively a role model for how everyone else should go forward in response to the CBI-Universities UK Stepping Higher report which sought to examine how business and universities might improve links.
Of the £33 billion spent on training annually in the UK, £5 billion could be provided by universities, according to Government research.
The document suggests ways in which universities can tap into this market by making themselves more accessible to business – for example, running courses on employers’ premises outside term time and adapting teaching styles to new audiences. But WMG has been there, done it, and moved on.
“We have been leading the field for years,” said Professor Bhattacharyya.
It was up to others to follow suit.
He said: “The Midlands has been at the heart of this. This is where business working with universities started at the top level. WMG has been an international benchmark – people come to Warwick from around the world.”
And WMG was not just a UK operation – it was doing work in India, Singapore and elsewhere.
It was turning out 450 UK Masters students a year and 1,000 worldwide.
He suggested the report was more reflecting on the wider need for “basic qualifications” such as foundation degrees. It was a matter of other universities seeking to “aspire” to WMG’s example.
The report stresses the advantages for businesses of working with higher education to create training programmes which deliver the skills they need, as well as the potential for generating ideas for new products and services.
Sponsored by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), it highlights companies successfully working with universities, including car maker Ford and Loughborough University, who together created the world’s first BSc degree in car dealership management. Other firms featured include:
* Network Rail which worked with its contractors and Sheffield Hallam University to develop a foundation degree in railway engineering
* IT firm Logica’s collaboration with the University of Winchester to create an IT management course for school leavers
* The AA and Coventry University’s management training programme
Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, said although universities and businesses were working together effectively, more could be done.
He said: “A strong relationship between business and university sectors is critical to helping the UK maintain competitiveness and the economic downturn makes it even more important for employers to strengthen workforce skills as competitive pressures intensify.
“Both sides can benefit from collaboration – businesses from new thinking and high quality employees, and universities from practical insights that enrich their teaching and research.
“By failing to harness the knowledge and expertise of universities, businesses could be missing the chance to get high quality tailor-made training to help their companies prosper.”
It is a message that has gone out repeatedly from regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, which, despite the success of WMG, insists local industry remains drastically short of skilled graduates. It maintains the private sector needs 70,000 extra – 330,000 to become best regional performer.
Professor Rick Trainor, president of Universities UK, said universities were becoming more business friendly but wanted to make it easier for employers to work with them. He said: “The report highlights some of the areas where universities and employers could each look at doing things differently.”