Queen’s Speech: University Reforms Key to Boosting Knowledge Economy

18 May 2016 -


Increased employability and improved teaching will provide a boost to the British economy and help businesses push themselves to the next level

Jermaine Haughton

Employers may in future have access to better prepared graduates, as the government’s new plans, announced in today’s Queen’s speech, propose incentivising universities to boost students’ employability skills, as well as allowing private organisations to award their own degrees.

Improvements in teaching quality are at the heart of the proposals. The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), introduced by this Conservative government, will monitor and assess different aspects of university teaching, including student experience and the job prospects of graduates.

The TEF aims to encourage and reward universities to improve their teaching standards and embed employability skills into the curriculum.

Institutions that meet the high standards set by the TEF will be able to raise their fees in line with inflation. This, it is said, will help incentivise high-quality teaching standards and protect the financial sustainability of the further education sector.

Petra Wilton, CMI’s director of strategy and external affairs, said it was necessary for business to better integrate themselves with education establishments to help drive up high-quality teaching and to ensure that graduates are properly prepared for the world of work.

“Embedding professional qualifications in university courses and enriching the curriculum through closer dialogue with business will shape a new generation of work-ready graduates,” she said. “Driving up excellence in education will help develop highly educated, business-ready graduates.

“Worryingly our research shows that employers have a low awareness of how courses have moved on, with two-fifths lacking confidence that business schools understand their needs. We’re keen to act as interpreters to bridge this gap, and look forward to building on our current work with HE partners to help them meet TEF requirements and deliver courses that through real-world experience better prepare students for working life.”

A lack of high quality graduates

Over the past decade, leading employers, including the inventor Sir James Dyson, have made public their frustration at the poor quality of graduate applicants they encounter. These reforms are designed to address this issue.

In 2015, the number of individuals who were under-qualified for their job was at its highest since 2012, meaning that employers are often forced to hire employees without the knowledge and capabilities required for the job.

Deficiencies in digital and creative skills, as well as an under-appreciation of the value of professional management skills, have seen the UK economy – and especially at many small and medium-sized firms – underperform its global rivals.

While Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and a number of other UK universities rank among the world’s top ten scientific research establishments, and Britain accounts for 16% of the world’s most cited scientific publications, the country still struggles to translate this into breakthrough talent able to grow companies and create global, innovative products.

CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie says: “Our world-class universities are a great British success story, so it’s good that the white paper proposals have taken on board the business view – building on and expanding the diversity of our higher education provision, which already is a brilliant asset.

“Skills shortages across our economy show we need to take action. It’s right to focus on high-quality university teaching, as well as giving students and employers greater transparency. Where new universities develop, it will be vital that students from all backgrounds know their degrees will be rigorous and help them build a great career – as with existing institutions. Piloting new approaches carefully, to ensure the right results, will be an important part of this.”

The best of both worlds

As part of the drive towards increasing the employability of UK graduates and improving the management capabilities of companies across the country, CMI has teamed up with leading employers, including Serco, Nestle and Barclays, to create the new Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship.

Designed by employers for employers, the new Degree Apprenticeship provides professional on the job training combined with world class academic tuition.

“People are being asked to lead without training or support, with ineffective managers draining British productivity,” CMI chief executive Ann Francke says. “This (the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship) finally addresses the core issue that a third of managers are rated as ineffective by their teams, a key cause for the UK’s poor performance in productivity.

“The new Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship ties together the training offered by educators and employers, with apprentices offered the threefold guarantee of a quality degree, on-the-job experience and a professional pathway for future development.”

For further information, click here to access the Department for Business Innovation & Skills white paper.