Employers must pay to plan university degrees

Employers that want to tailor university degrees to the needs of their business should be prepared to get their wallets out, further education experts have said.

According to a leaked government paper last week, officials at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) are considering how future funding would be spent on business-focused degrees, co-designed and co-funded by employers. However, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said employers wanted control of university education, but without the burden of cost.

“Experience tells us that while business is keen to have its say about the university curriculum and skills, it has little interest in footing any of the bills, and voluntary funding from employers just does not happen,” she said.

“We need to trust people who have spent their lives working in education, not allow business to dictate the short-term direction universities should be taking.”

Marc Cowling, principal economist at the Institute for Employment Studies, said: “Employers are reluctant to fund academic work. Universities have tried to get business on board in the past, but it has not been backed up by hard cash. The government appears to be taking a firm stand to help foster the relationship between universities and business, but a cultural shift is needed to overcome the power struggle.”

But the CBI rejected claims that firms were tight with money, pointing to the fact that they spend £33bn a year on training.

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