Don’t forget vocational skills, Glaxo boss warns universities

A return to old polytechnics that concentrate on producing skilled technicians was called for by Glaxo Wellcome chairman Sir Richard Sykes in his speech at the British Association Annual Festival of Science. He added that universities, with the help of government funding, must develop a diversity of roles, with research concentrated in a smaller number […]

A return to old polytechnics that concentrate on producing skilled technicians was called for by Glaxo Wellcome chairman Sir Richard Sykes in his speech at the British Association Annual Festival of Science.

He added that universities, with the help of government funding, must develop a diversity of roles, with research concentrated in a smaller number of centres of excellence.

In his presidential address to the association, Sykes set out the factors needed to underpin a successful knowledge-driven economy creating `high productivity business processes and high value goods and services’.

`It must be recognised that it is unrealistic for every university to produce leading research scientists,’ he said.

`Basic research will become concentrated in a smaller number of university departments. Others must develop missions that centre on other university roles.’

When universities and polytechnics were separate, he said, the polytechnics were recognised for `producing high quality, technically trained individuals’, and for their support for vocational training.

Sykes called on the Government to ensure that higher education funding mechanisms had `clear and separate legs’ to serve different roles.

Dr Michael Sanderson, Engineering and Marine Training Authority chief executive, endorsed Sykes’ comments. The polytechnics’ vocational and technical training role had been `very highly respected’, he said. Since being made universities, `some have continued that tradition and some haven’t’.

* Trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers has announced eight university-based centres of excellence to encourage entrepreneurship in science. The universities, chosen from bids under the Science Enterprise Challenge, will share £34m of government funding. They are: Bristol; Cambridge; Glasgow with Dundee, Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt and Strathclyde; Imperial College; London Business School with University College London; UMIST with Manchester University, Manchester Metropolitan University and Salford University; Nottingham; and Sheffield with Leeds and York universities.

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