“To cultivate the next generation of business leaders, our relationship with students must begin at a very early age”

Every business seeks competitive advantage. Every business focuses on innovation. Every business seeks to attract and retain the very best staff.  

It mystifies me why universities are so often viewed as being culturally antithetical to, and disengaged from, business. We share many of the same challenges and goals and are among some of the most powerful contributors to the UK economy.

As an example my institution, The Times and Sunday Times University of the Year, the University of Birmingham, turns over £500m a year and contributes more than £1bn to locale economy. We employ 3,000 academic staff, many of whom are at the cutting edge of scientific and engineering innovation and this knowledge is transferred into businesses of all kinds. We can see this process in all our relationships, but none more so than with Rolls-Royce, with whom we are establishing a ‘high temperature’ research centre that will develop future generations of aero engines.

As universities, one of our most valuable contributions to business is the development of outstanding young people who will leave us to innovate and make businesses successful. To do this, universities and businesses are working together to ensure that our higher education system is delivering the right kind of graduates with the right sets of skills to become productive quickly.

But in order truly to cultivate gifted individuals and create the next generation of business leaders, our relationship with students must begin at a very early age. In 2015 we will open the University of Birmingham School and Sixth Form. A fully comprehensive school, the curriculum will focus on science and technology, and will be informed by business. We expect the school to feed pre- and post A-Level talent into businesses of all types, as well as being the first stage in developing the graduate employees of the future.

Meanwhile our school leavers’ programme, designed together with accountants KPMG, combines a bespoke degree with high quality work experience and leads to Chartered Accountant status and a job with the firm.

Furthermore, our Formulation Engineering EngD Studentships in the School of Chemical Engineering programme has a 100% employment record and has been recognised by the Institution of Chemical Engineers as contributing to Chartered Engineer status.

We work closely with businesses around the world to develop student internships of all types so that they get real world experience for their chosen career paths.

I am often asked if we can’t do more to support businesses and my response will always be the same; we are open for business and we want to work in partnership.  We are proud of what we have achieved so far, but we would like to understand more about what business wants from us and tailor our offer accordingly.

The most important thing we can do is to listen and respond with a solution that can help to propel a business forward.

Prof David Eastwood is Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Birmingham

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