Following the announcement by the Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts, that the UK is now searching for a 10% rise in private funding entering higher education, The Manufacturer speaks to Gareth Dean, UK & Ireland sales director at the industrial automation and information firm Rockwell Automation, to discuss what employers think.
TM: What are your thoughts on the announcement?
GD: We welcome the fact that the announcement makes clear that the UK should be looking to the future and hints at an opportunity for the UK to become a great home for the growing markets of Science and Technology further education, as it already is for other University courses.
TM: Would Rockwell Automation be interested in financially contributing to science in higher education?
GD: Issues such as education and skills for a competitive workforce in the UK will always be of interest on some level. We look forward to hearing more detail…
TM: What is your view on setting up new, privately-funded science and technology universities? Is this a better option than expanding existing institutions such as Cambridge and Oxford?
GD: It could well be that in the near future these two approaches are not separate. Warwick University was one of the bidders for Mayor Bloomberg’s New York Scheme inviting universities to ‘bid’ for the ‘Science School’. In seeking to make the UK a home for world-class technological and engineering entrepreneurship and research, initiatives such as Mayor Bloomberg’s should be considered.
TM: Will there be a loss of autonomy for universities if universities become more dependent on private funds?
GD: This depends very much on if and how the system develops, but in the short term, it is difficult to imagine that the 10% more private funding from companies will be sought in exchange for detrimental influence over the autonomy or innovation of the research carried out with British universities.
TM: How do you think the plans will benefit manufacturing companies?
GD: The primary benefit to manufacturing companies in investment in the future skills and employability of the workforce comes from the medium and long term confidence and growth that this can help engender in the UK manufacturing and engineering economy and the improvement in skills when the scheme is returning new graduates.
TM: Is there a possibility that only large companies will benefit?
GD: As a global company that works with small, medium and large companies, Rockwell Automation benefits from a healthy and growing industrial economy. A better skilled workforce should benefit both smaller and larger companies.
TM: Are you worried that the curriculum may change if the education system depends more and more upon private finance?
GD: Curricula should be constantly developed to suit the market of the graduate and best prepare them for the workplace they will encounter and in this respect, who better to help define it than the future employers of graduates in industry? Responsibility would fall to the examination boards to verify that graduates reach a suitable standard to be awarded an accredited qualification.
The key is how private finance is brought in, rather than if. It could be that in the present economy with no further public money earmarked for further education schemes in Science subjects, doing nothing would be a far worse option.