How Britain needs universities to deliver business goals

Cisco’s Phil Smith on the importance of educating the educators and the future benefit for the next generation of business leaders

Education establishments and businesses are waking up to the fact that for graduates to succeed outside of education they need to provide a combination of theoretical, but also practical skills to prepare them for the business world.

A recent report by McKinsey says only 43% of employers think they can find enough skilled entry-level workers. In today’s highly competitive job market, graduates need to demonstrably prove they have the knowledge, skills, but most importantly, experience to excel in their chosen profession.

In today’s fast-paced market the role of our academic institutions needs to evolve in order to not only produce, but also foster, the next generation of UK business innovators.

Take Universities for example, the time honoured houses of education; teaching their students the most important of all skills – learning how to learn, and how to be a lifelong learner.

As institutions they play a hugely important role in producing highly skilled graduates and budding entrepreneurs who, in turn, can help drive innovation and economic growth.

However, while universities are fantastic at teaching their students these skills, many are lacking the ability to help graduates put these skills and ideas into practice before graduation day.

As a result, education institutions need to shift their focus and concentrate on developing a closer partnership with businesses.

This will not only ensure the curriculum meets the practical needs required to succeed in the workplace, but also equip the next generation of entrepreneurs with the skills they need to grow the businesses of the future and keep the SME market alive.

There are great examples of universities having progressed beyond a siloed approach and working closely with business to the benefit of their graduates.

Cisco, for example, has partnered with many leading UK universities, including University College London and Warwick University. The emphasis is on building global links with business and industry, giving their students a competitive advantage by facilitating first-hand business acumen before entering the workplace.

Cisco’s Network Academy is another case in point and collaborates with education organisations to help students prepare for information and communication technology careers.

Such programmes, running in tandem with the traditional education curriculum, help provide demonstrable skills and create a symbiotic relationship between academia and entrepreneurship.

As such, students are being provided with that much needed continuity from the lecture hall to the workplace, giving them the confidence, foresight and competitive edge required to make an impact in the business world.

In short, in an ever-connected world, the educator’s role is changing dramatically. The key for the future lies in ensuring that, by collaborating, businesses and universities are able to ignite the right mindsets, the right behaviours and the right ambitions to harness the next generation of Britain’s business leaders.

Phil Smith is the CEO Cisco UK & Ireland and UK Technology Strategy Board chairman.www.cisco.com

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