Tailor degrees to business demands, say industry chiefs

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DigbyThe key to getting the best graduate job is knowing how to get out of bed on time, business leaders have said.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is hoping that universities will soon put as much emphasis on work related training, such as communication skills and team management, as they do undergraduate courses.

CBI – the self-proclaimed “voice of business” – has put together a Higher Education Task Force, working with some of the world’s best known companies, along with three English universities. The aim of this task force is to help students develop the employability skills needed in the business world.

Richard Lambert, Director General of CBI, put it simply. Speaking at the launch of the task force last month he stated: “Most people need to be able to get up in the morning.”

Speaking at the same launch Susan Anderson, the CBI’s head of education, pointed out that for most employers, being able to get to work on time counts far more than what subject a graduate studied, or what mark they finished with.

“There is dissatisfaction with soft skills, communication skills and self-management” she said. “These are generic skills we expect every graduate to have.”

This statement is backed up by CBI’s own findings. In a recent survey 86% of firms ranked employability skills as the most important factor when recruiting graduates.

More worryingly perhaps, 20% of employers said they were currently dissatisfied with graduates’’ basic skills, while 63% believe universities should make helping students improve their leadership and management skills a priority.

Another of CBI’s complaints is the matter of funding. According to them businesses spent £39 billion in 2007 on workforce training while in the same year university income from workforce training was just £480 million.

“Clearly, the role of universities is broader than just business,” Mr. Lambert said. “But as a significant funder, user and customer of higher education, it is only right that business sets out what it needs.”

The businesses in question range from smoothie giants Innocent, to global giants McDonalds and Microsoft – proving, if nothing else, that globalisation is alive and well in the corridors of education.

Johnny Cameron, Chairman of Global Markets at RBS, one of the companies represented, said of the task force: “I see first-hand that British graduates are themselves competing in a global market for the best jobs.”

“In the UK we need to ensure that our graduates continue to be amongst the best in the world, developing the business awareness, personal skills and technical knowledge they will need to be successful in today’s world.”

Perhaps not wisely given the current state of the world economy, CBI are also pointing to America to show Britain how private investment can transform Higher Education.

In America private sources account for 62% of Higher Education funding, compared to just 31% in the UK.

They also point to countries like Japan and France, who both spend a higher percentage of their Gross Domestic Product on Higher Education than we do in the UK, as examples to be followed.