How the HE white paper may help to address our skills gap

The Government's higher education white paper is taking a lot of flak. But at least its calls for more collaboration between academia and industry are on the right lines.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 05 Sep 2011
The Coalition's proposed higher education changes have come in for a great deal of criticism: opponents are particularly unhappy about plans to make the system more market-based, including plans to rank universities by graduate employment rates and salaries, not to mention the proposal to allow private entities to ‘kitemark’ certain courses and offer accreditations. Universities Minister David Willetts even went as far as saying universities should consider themselves part of the private sector, which was never going to go down very well.

But there’s also an argument that the changes proposed by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills could wind up having a positive effect, in light of current concerns about the employability of the UK's young people. Bringing the private sector into the educational equation - by encouraging greater engagement with employers to accredit programmes, and focusing on how academia and industry can work together better - will hopefully be a big boost as far as skills are concerned.

That’s certainly the view of Career Academies UK, a business-education charity, which praised the reforms for their promotion of greater university-industry collaboration, as well as the benefits of internships. ‘Greater employer engagement and hands-on experiences of the work place can better equip young people for future employment, boost the UK skills gap, and improve social mobility,’ said chief executive James McCreary. And this is not a Government apologist talking. The charity was set up ‘to raise aspirations of 16 to 19-year-olds’, working with 900 employers to provide them with paid internships; it boasts that nearly 85% of its graduates either go straight into employment or head to university.

Employers continue to complain that their young recruits are lacking basic workplace skills. So if the Government's proposed reforms encourage more employers to help people develop these skills before they hit the job market, then that has to be good news in the long term for UK plc.

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