Could ‘Industrial Partnerships’ be the key to enable companies to influence higher education provision?

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As we blogged previously, manufacturers rely on the recruitment of graduates to fill their skill needs. Manufacturers have different skills needs, which can often be niche and specialised.

Employers have a primary role to play in continuing to develop the skills of graduates when they are in employment; however, they have a certain expectation that graduates leave university with the fundamentals of their chosen discipline, such as engineering. Higher education courses must then meet the needs of industry

Eight in ten companies say that designing and delivering courses that meet industry needs should be a priority for higher education providers.

As well as ensuring the theoretical content of higher education provision meets the needs of industry, the technical learning also needs to be relevant to the real working world. Part of this is ensuring that the facilities and resources utilised by learners during their degrees are representative of the equipment they will be using in industry.

There are a number of ways in which companies can seek to influence provision, such as sharing resources and facilities, guest lecturing in universities, involvement in course design or funding a specific faculty.

We have found that manufacturers are taking action in all areas to influence provision. However this activity is limited and tends to be dominated by larger companies.

Whilst 20% of larger companies say they fund specific faculties at universities, only 5% if small firms do.

Such patterns are consistent with involvement in other activities also.

Chart 1: Manufacturers are engaging with activities to influence provision, but this is dominated by larger firms, %companies citing ways in which they seek to influence provision by size

Source: EEF Higher Education Survey 2013-14

We must allow all companies the opportunity to influence provision at universities. When asking manufacturers have best they could influence the design and development of higher education courses, interestingly four in ten said through the creation of Industrial Partnerships (IPs). These, we suggested would be sectoral, employer-led bodies taking end to end responsibility for the skills system, and importantly qualifications.

Chart 2: Manufacturers see various channels through which they can influence higher education provision, %companies reporting ways in which they would like to influence provision

Source: EEF Higher Education Survey 2013-14

Sectoral Industrial Partnerships would be the natural successor to the Employer Ownership of Skills Pilots (EOP). Industry leaders that have successfully won bids under EOP, together with those that are currently leading on the Apprenticeship Trailblazers could form the basis of such Partnerships.

We envisage that the IPs would go further, involving a wider range of stakeholders and overseeing the entire skills landscape, including higher education. This would ensure that the voice of industry is heard, and higher education courses are reflective of the needs of industry.

Graduates would then enter into the labour market with the technical knowledge demanded by employers, to accompany that industry experience we blogged about just last week, demonstrating they could truly hit the ground running in one of the many job opportunities on offer within our industry.


Head of Education & Skills Policy

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