Universities 'must become more business-friendly'

2003

UK business is missing out on world class researchers and higher quality graduates because universities are not business-friendly and lack customer focus, according to a new report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Aimed at identifying the benefits, barriers and practical ways of promoting effective collaboration between business and higher education in the UK, the report finds that while there is a great deal of worthwhile activity, there is also plenty of room for improvement.

The paper includes the findings of a snapshot survey of 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 did not match that of the academics.

A quarter of companies said graduate recruits lacked business awareness and high level skills. Fourteen per cent of firms said that 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.

Launching the report, CBI chief, Digby 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 focussed. 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.

"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 focussed and government should facilitate with an agenda for change and funds to help."