The Wilson Review into university-business collaboration expected to recommend incentives for university courses that incorporate work placements
Universities that promote employment experience through four-year sandwich degrees should be free to admit an unlimited number of students to those courses, a government-commissioned review is expected to say.
Other recommendations in Sir Tim Wilson’s review of university-business collaboration are likely to include plans for some deregulation of the degree-awarding process, and calls for universities to address a general reputation for being unresponsive to business.
Wilson was commissioned by the government last year to come up with ways to make the UK the world leader in university-business collaboration. By studying examples at universities such as Surrey, Aston, Bath and Loughborough, the review established there was evidence that students who did one-year work placements as part of a four-year degree were more employable than those who didn’t. The review was therefore expected to recommend incentives for universities to expand such programmes.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) will be asked to adjust the allocation of students to benefit universities that put on sandwich courses. The government has already used the distribution of places to lever other changes in the sector.
It encouraged some universities to lower their fees in return for the chance to expand, and it has stimulated competition for AAB grade students with the same tactic. Ministers are understood to be keen on this latest proposal for promoting employment experience.
The review will highlight some notable examples of good collaboration between universities and business, including Coventry and Warwick Universities working together with Jaguar Land Rover, West of England and Bristol cooperating on an Enterprise Zone, and Staffordshire and Keele Universities helping to create a science park.
The key to the success of these examples, the review is expected to say, is that they involve different types of universities who are aware, confident and appreciative of their own and each others’ strengths and limitations.
Wilson is likely to argue for a culture change among UK universities where relentless competition gives way to the concept of collaborative advantage. Few are expected to reject this call in public, but in private many vice-chancellors may find it difficult to accept the need to be open about what their institution does and does not do well, and importantly to acknowledge that other universities have strengths they do not share.
The review is likely to recommend allowing consortia of FE colleges to validate and award two-year foundation degrees themselves without being forced to rely on a university, and for the process to be speeded up.
The two main reasons behind this are to release colleges from what some regard as a “stranglehold” where a university can and does claw back for itself the student places on the college courses it has validated; the other is to help those FE colleges with strong links to larger local businesses which have created a demand for specialised foundation degrees.
According to the Wilson inquiry, the current three-year timescale for validating these courses through universities is too long and cumbersome for the needs of business, and colleges are anxious to be allowed to do it themselves and do it more quickly.
But one person’s bureaucratic burden is another’s quality assurance, and advocates of this proposal are likely to face some opposition. The review will also urge universities and senior policy makers to do more to help students appreciate the job opportunities within the SME sector and in self-employment.