If British companies do not invest in developing people, technologies and products, companies in other countries will. There is a clear role for universities in applying their knowledge and insights to business and technology challenges at all levels comments Professor Lord Bhattacharyya, Director of WMG.
Lord Bhattacharyya with Nick Fell, Director of Tata Motors
Our universities are full of innovators, people who want to work with industry to share ideas, encourage talent and transfer knowledge to develop innovative products, services and people. In order for the UK to remain competitive and successful it is essential that industry and education forge better relationships and start collaborating together.
However, we must understand what businesses really need to develop these new technologies and products. They need talented people at every level. So I believe business and academic partnership should run from secondary schools right through to post-graduate research.
For example, University Technical Colleges would assist in developing the next generation of engineers, while the new £200m elite Technology and Innovation centres will enable Business to commercialise world class research.
I am a graduate apprentice myself, and I believe our ambition should be to create a vocational education system that extends from school right through to post graduate education, letting the student go as far as their talent and ambition takes them, and helping employers develop their talented employees from shop floor to Board room.
There is great enthusiasm from young people for building their technical skills. Why should that process stop or start at the University gates? In the past people worked while they undertook a HNC/HND at Technical College and there was a pride in this. For the employer quality education with an industrial focus represents an investment in their work force at all levels. For the student it is a chance to improve their life chances. The key to achieving both these objectives is to hand the power of choice to the individual, so resources flow to the most successful apprenticeships programmes and degree courses, and from there on to FE and HE courses.
Sadly, in Britain, there is still sometimes a little snobbery about this, but I always wonder why legal, medical and accountancy courses, which are vocational at every level, don’t attract the same disdain. We should feel the same way about science and innovation.
We are living in a globalised environment and it is important that people working in industry have a greater understanding of not just the national but the international environment, with a broad based understanding of politics, economics and not just technology. Having the skills to work in a global market place will put you ahead of the competition and you will reap the benefits.
At WMG we are continually seeking to close the gap between academia and industry, encouraging business to see how academic teaching and research can help develop their people and product, and through them, their bottom line. Some may say we are a training ground for Britain’s future industrialists.
So we are supporting the creation of the University Technical College at Warwick University, and announced last year that Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) have relocated 170 designers to create an advanced research and development centre in WMG’s International Digital Laboratory. This is where JLR will be working on low carbon vehicles and other projects that will drive the company forward within the next four to seven years. In March this year we announced that Tata Motors’ European Technical Centre, who are based in our International Automotive Research Centre, are expanding their team of highly skilled engineers working on the campus by 40% over the next two years.
The connections are there between industry and academia in the UK, but overall nowhere near strong enough. Despite some progress, the sharing of innovation and success between academia and industry is too often the exception when it needs to be the rule.