Academics denounce courses tailored for businesses

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I’ve been writing a blog post on topics similar to this over the past few days but as it’s reached over 5000 words I might have to edit it down before I post it. In the meantime, read this Guardian story.

I share the worries, but wonder why it’s come as a surprise given that Sector Skills Councils have been around for about four years now with an overt policy of getting the government to make universities stop pushing the boundaries of knowledge and instead deliver nicely formed employees. Oh look, I’m off again – I’ll stop now and let you read the article yourself…

Lecturers today condemned reports that the government is planning a major expansion of the role business plays in the delivery of degrees, warning it will lead to graduates being ‘churned out’ of ‘identikit’ institutions.
A leaked document, seen by the Financial Times, suggests that ministers are considering ploughing extra funding into degrees jointly designed and funded by employers.

It also suggests that degrees could be redesigned to make them shorter and more intensive, reflecting an increasing interest in two-year qualifications.

The document, Higher Level Skills Strategy, dated from last November, recognises the ‘risks’ for universities in tailoring courses for businesses.

But it makes clear that the short-term expansion of higher education will be dominated by courses involved with industry.

‘An institution may worry about its public image,’ the FT reported the document as saying.

‘We expect the majority of this growth to be in provision that is developed with employer input – either foundation degrees [two year vocational degrees co-designed by employers] or employer co-funded places,’ it said.

A spokesman for the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, refused to comment on the leaked document but confirmed an announcement made last December to plough £105m into ’employer engagement’, including co-funded places.

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and Colleges Union, said: ‘University is about so much more than just getting students through their degree and out the other side. We should be celebrating universities that are prepared to take risks and push the boundaries in their pursuit of knowledge and research.

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

‘The creeping marketisation of higher education seems only concerned with a bottom line and treating students as commodities. Identikit institutions in all our towns and cities churning out graduates in a couple of years is not what the country needs to protect its proud position as world leader in teaching excellence and innovative research.’

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