Education, business and government: a new partnership for the 21st Century

By Julie Mercer –

Education in the UK is undergoing a seismic shift. From changes in policy on SureStart through to higher education, the Coalition Government is reshaping the relationship between individuals and education. Within the context of economic recovery and the work to eliminate the UK’s fiscal deficit, the Government is rethinking its core obligations to citizens across a range of public services, including education. A fundamental, challenge is to agree when it is appropriate to pay and when intervention is required to drive best value for the taxpayer, the individual or family, and for the economy. What is the role of government, business and the education system in addressing this? This paper provides an employer’s perspective on these issues.

With university fees set to increase in 2012 and the uncertain economic outlook, many potential students are questioning whether university is the right choice for them and thinking about a broader range of options open to them. The changes provoke some ‘first-principles’ questions: What value will a university education bring me? How much debt will I have and what impact will this have on my future? Will the degree I am planning to study and the university I intend to go to give me the edge I need to be successful in the job market? What alternative options should I consider?

Investing in future generations is a responsibility employers share. We need to find better ways of equipping students with information they need to help them make informed choices. Recent research by Deloitte for the Education & Employers Taskforce confirmed the lack of visibility of employers and good information about career options in many schools.[1] Coupled with a real need to diversify the talent pool within which businesses look for talented young employees, employers must think differently about how they engage with schools and young people.

The further education (FE) system has a strong track record of working with employers to meet their needs. Some of the most innovative are working in partnership with business, jointly investing in the development of the future local workforce, sharing facilities and responsibility for training, and creating a cultural fit between the two organisations that continuously reinforces the links between training, development and the world of work.

The introduction of University Technical Colleges (UTCs), the expansion of modern apprenticeships and the findings of the recent report by Professor Alison Wolf, all recognise the need for high quality technical and vocational routes to employment. Raising the standing of vocational routes should be a priority for any modern economy where competitive advantage is underpinned by the calibre of technical skills available to attract and retain businesses. Building an entrepreneurial mindset right from the early years and throughout the educational journey should run through the curriculum and educational pedagogy.

To be successful, closer links with business will be critical. Education providers need to be more customer focused and should shape their programmes to reflect what learners and businesses demand. At the same time, businesses must recognise that, to get the most out of their partnerships with educators, they need to share strategic plans and provide each other with the confidence to invest. They should also provide students with well developed work experience and internship opportunities.

So what can businesses do to support schools, colleges and universities in their communities? The responses can be practical and relatively low cost for businesses. For example, providing schools with material and knowledge that mix subject learning with insight, experience and role models from the world of work. This could include information on the how the latest research or technology is being used by industry, information about the types of jobs available, raising aspiration through work placement and entrepreneurial projects, visiting lecturers or tutors on related courses, and mentoring and coaching for students and teachers.

For others, the level of partnership might be greater, including though helping schools, colleges and universities procure or have access to other services such as HR, finance or technology, and making better use of the purchasing power and expertise within businesses.

The Government’s policy to encourage free schools and Academies to take control of education outcomes in their locality creates further opportunities for business to engage with education in a practical way. Current policy and the concept of a ‘Big Society’ offers opportunity for local groups and charities to strengthen their support for schools, colleges and universities. If the ambition to transform most schools into Academies is to be realised, business will need to play a role. They can sponsor schools, provide business services and partner with parent and teacher groups to provide the expertise needed to set up free schools.

Being clear about the benefits businesses and educational institutions gain from working together, in terms of opportunities to enrich learning as well as business service expertise can, with the right incentives and regulatory framework, raise standards and reduce costs. For many organisations making the links with education providers is still challenging. Government needs to simplify the qualification system so that employers and students understand what the qualifications mean. Schools, colleges and universities need to provide better information about the quality of the courses they offer and the opportunities they will open for the learner.

As over 23,000 schools move to Academy status, there is a risk of isolation together with few economies of scale or shared development. But the reality may be somewhat different with existing and new academy providers joining forces to create federations and communities of schools. This could involve strategic partnerships with businesses and the creation of local systems that involve primary and secondary schools, a UTC, FE providers, Sure Start centres and even a university within the local community. This model offers the potential to improve choice and offer alternative learning pathways (academic or technical) to young people throughout their education. It also provides real links and opportunities with local businesses and improved value for money as people, systems and processes are shared across the group.

At Deloitte we have tried to align what we do with our education partners with the strengths and expertise within our own business. Our sponsorship of Teach First means we can work with some of the most disadvantaged schools within our communities and support talented young people in these schools through their studies. Our staff provide coaching and mentoring support to Teach First teachers and to students, encouraging them to aim high and consider university and continued education or training. The BrightStart Deloitte School Leaver programme, offers a new alternative pathway for joining Deloitte and gaining qualifications, in addition to the traditional higher education route.[2]

As important as technical or academic capabilities are the ‘soft skills’ that can be used within the workplace. Examples of ‘soft skills’ are working as part of a team, being able to communicate with others, managing and motivating teams, and being able to interact with people outside of your direct team. Gaining work experience or simply being a member of a club at school or university can all help to develop these skills before they are needed for employment.

Our award-winning Deloitte Employability Programme provides over 40,000 young people with a Level 2 Qualification through a network of Deloitte Employability Centres located in further education colleges and universities across the UK.[3] This qualification, developed in collaboration with Edexcel and with investment from Deloitte over the past 4 years of over £2m, arose in direct response to our clients highlighting the challenges of finding employment-ready school leavers and graduates. The results have been astounding with 89% of graduates going on to full-time employment or full-time study at a higher level than the previous six months after completing the course.

Julie Mercer is a Partner in Deloitte’s consulting practice and leads the education services practice.

Deloitte is a major professional services provider and has around 12,000 partners and staff in the UK. In the United Kingdom, Deloitte works with a majority of the FTSE 100 and many branches of government. Our advisory work spans audit, accountancy, tax, corporate finance and consulting. Deloitte LLP is the United Kingdom member firm for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee.




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