CBI calls on colleges to learn to talk to business

The
CBI is urging universities to be more business friendly.

CBI
chief Digby Jones, speaking at a seminar organised by the Department of
Education and Skills, said that business was missing out on world-class
researchers and higher quality graduates because some universities lack
customer focus.

Jones
presented a CBI paper aimed at identifying the benefits, barriers and practical
ways of promoting effective collaboration between business and higher education
in the UK.

The
paper includes the findings of a snapshot survey of 50 larger CBI member
companies, the vast majority of which already have links with universities.
Half of the firms said they benefit from the intellectual and research
expertise in the universities. Almost half use links as a means of picking out
future recruits.

However,
half of the respondents said a lack of "customer service" from some
universities was a barrier to greater involvement. Some firms had difficulty
identifying the right person to talk to and others found that the accepted
sense of business urgency was not shared by the academics.

A
quarter of companies said graduate recruits lacked business awareness and high
level skills, and 14 per cent of firms said courses are not sufficiently
relevant to business. Employers said they would be more willing to get involved
if universities were prepared to develop well-defined bespoke courses that add
value to the business.

Jones
said: "Successful links between business and universities have contributed
to the world class companies we have in Britain today. But if more firms are to
benefit from collaboration we all have a role to play.

"Universities
need to become more business friendly and customer focused. If some of the UK’s
largest companies have problems identifying the right person to speak to in a
university, just think how daunting it will be for a small or medium-sized
business.

"Business
must play its part: Many companies show that successful relationships can be a
source of innovation, world class research and development and increased
productivity. We need to shout about our successes and spread best practice.

"The
Government can encourage business and universities to work together. It must
ensure that universities make the quality of graduates, particularly their
business awareness, a priority. It could also facilitate a national database to
help firms identify the centres of excellence in particular fields across the
UK.

"This
is a virtuous triangle if everyone works on delivery. Business (especially
smaller firms) should engage more, universities should be more customer-focused
and the Government should facilitate with an agenda for change and funds to
help."

By Quentin Reade

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