HM Treasury ‘Lambert Review’ of Business-University Collaboration

September 2003

This Association (MeCCSA) represents departments and scholars
in its fields in UK universities. Our fields extend across
both social science and humanities disciplines, and the Association’s
members engage in education and research embracing a diversity
of approaches, from the intensely vocational to the substantially
theoretical.

We welcome this opportunity to comment on the issues raised
by the Review, and in particular those that we feel are of
particular salience in our field. This reflects the following
notable characteristics of departments and graduates in cultural,
communications and media studies:

  1. An unusually high proportion of gradates are in employment,
    as shown by annual surveys by the Association of Graduate
    Careers Advisory Services. Our graduates are exceptionally
    employable and display a variety of skills, both specific
    and generic, that are attractive to employers. At the
    same time a relatively low proportion stay in Higher
    Education to undertake higher degrees.

  2. The field is extremely popular among university applicants,
    not least because it reflects areas of activity and employment
    which are among the fastest growing in the economy, and
    which, broadly conceived of as in the cultural and information
    sectors, represent areas of significance to future growth
    and national policy.

Against that background we hope the following notes may
be of interest to the Review Team.

  1. It is important to recognise that a caricature of complete
    distinction between ivory tower theory driven research
    on the one hand, and wholly applied and vocational work
    on the other is both damaging and inaccurate. In our
    experience, and that of most employers, a flourishing
    academic sector helps industry both by training of directly
    relevant skills, but also by providing the advanced generic
    education and knowledge base which graduates can take
    into employment. Unduly focused training imparts skills
    which may rapidly date in a work environment marked by
    dynamism, rapid technological change, and flexibility.
    This is a view shared by both graduates in Media Studies
    and their employers, as recent HEFCE funded research
    by the Media Employability Project demonstrates. Employers,
    it found, ‘wanted graduates who have developed
    a range of generic skills, both “higher order” academic
    skills, such as the ability to research, and to be ultimately “trainable” but
    also to bring transferable, work-related skills …to
    the work place.’ (Report into Perceptions of the
    Media Studies Curriculum and Employability May 2002 p.99).
    Graduates ‘agreed on the need for a balance between
    theory and practice’ (ibid. p.100).

  2. The academy provides a steady stream of both basic and
    applied research that informs and complements commercial
    and industrial work. Like research in so many areas the
    most effective and constructive research may often be
    recognised as such only gradually. The independence and
    autonomy of such research are the best guarantors of
    originality and inventiveness.

  3. The UK probably has a less advanced and extensive tradition
    of industry/university collaboration in these fields
    than in either the USA or Europe. A great deal of funding
    from the media and communication industries finds its
    way into sponsorship of studentships, research, and other
    activities in many countries in ways that are rare (though
    not absent) in this country. The growth of such collaboration
    would be warmly welcomed from within Higher Education.

  4. Such collaboration works best where there is good understanding
    on both sides of the need for independence, autonomy,
    respect for intellectual copyright, and a focus on education
    rather than training as the central teaching mission
    of universities. For these reasons we would invite the
    Team to consider with caution any proposals for ‘accreditation’ or ‘signposting’ of
    university programmes or departments by industry or commercial
    bodies. This would not serve the interest of ‘the
    industry’; nor is it what employers want, as the
    summary of employers’ responses in the Media Employability
    project quoted above demonstrates. It would require
    the establishment of an additional layer of quality assurance
    bureaucracy added to the many that already exist; diminish
    the range of qualifications and programmes on offer;
    stultify curricula and course contents in fields that
    desperately need flexibility and renewal; and risk artificially
    separating the pragmatic and vocational from the contextual
    and theoretical, when the combination of these has recurrently
    been recognised (by for example the Quality Assurance
    Agency for Higher Education) as essential for both good
    education and for employable graduates. ‘Signposting’ of
    the precise nature of particular courses already exists
    in the form of the QAA requirement for programme specification
    documents.

  5. We urge rejection of the establishment of sector centres
    of excellence as a way of fostering industry/university
    collaboration in our field. This would lead to the formation
    of a narrow range of educationally restricted units,
    geographically limited to a few locations, and with programmes
    narrowly defined in relation to current industry practice
    in very few areas. ‘The industry’ relevant
    to our field is extremely diverse, and certainly not
    represented in any one skills council or employer body.
    We wish to maintain and extend the range of opportunity
    available to our graduates. This will ensure the best
    flow of skilled young people into the labour market,
    and avoid the risk of excluding those living in parts
    of the country not having a centre of excellence, or
    whose skills and interests extend beyond those matching
    those that happen to be endorsed by such Centres.

  6. There exists already a great deal of industry involvement
    in the teaching of students in our fields. It is common
    practice to involve professionals from within the media
    and creative industries in teaching programmes on either
    a sessional or casual basis, or more substantially. This
    works extremely well, and is highly valued, as
    the Media Employability Report indicates ibid. (p.103). It reflects
    a more effective interchange than a more rigid structure
    in which permanent ‘vocational’ centres were
    established, separately from other work in the university
    sector. This might have the added disadvantage of excluding
    students at such centres from teaching by researchers
    or teachers significantly involved in advanced and innovative
    research in their fields.

  7. We have urged, through our responses to the ‘Roberts
    view’ of research assessment, a proper and further
    attention to the role of ‘practice work’ in
    external assessment of university research. We are satisfied
    that this is being properly addressed within the remit
    of the RAE review. It is normal practice for the research
    councils to require research applicants to nominate external ‘research
    users’ as referees, and we welcome this involvement
    of the user community.

Posted by Administrator