How does CBI recruit graduates

British companies complain about the "education ghetto"

UK employers are pushing for employability to be more central to education. Companies worry that too little is taught in schools and universities about what is in demand on the job market.

It's amazing: you ask the head of a British high-tech company whether the government is doing enough for your industry and expect an answer that touches on topics such as innovation incentives, research policy or the tax treatment of stock options. But far from it. Rather, it complains about the shortcomings of the British education system. There are too few university graduates with computer science degrees; his company is forced to recruit new employees from abroad. The problem, continued Warren East of the microchip company ARM, started much earlier, namely in school. There it is missed to get the students excited about science and technology subjects.

Curricula in question

Warren East is not alone with his criticism, other observers are even sharper. Walter Herriot from the Cambridge Innovation Center in St. John's speaks of a British "educational ghetto". The elite universities delivered excellent first-class graduates, and the graduates from the other universities also had good qualifications. But then there is a deep rift, on the other side of which there would be a large number of people whose skills are insufficient to compete in a knowledge society. The UK government's efforts to remedy the situation have proven ineffective. Herriot now thinks they are lip service.

The problem is so acute that the British employers' association CBI joined the discussion on Thursday. The business community does not want to presume to determine the curriculum, said the president of the association, John Sunderland. But at a time when globalization is both a challenge and an opportunity, employability must move to the center of the education system. The specifically British problem are the "education refusers". The British school system creates an underclass that has nothing to expect from the educational offer, does not make any efforts and does not get anything in return, explained Sunderland, who traced the problem back to its historical roots. In England, the state school system has long served to maintain the class system rather than promoting social mobility, said the President of the Employers' Association.

Too few scientists

Employers worry that school leavers will not study what will subsequently be in demand on the labor market. For example, a large number of media reports on criminology caused the number of students for these courses to skyrocket by 33% in 2004; however, employers' demand for such graduates is low. Conversely, many employers in research-intensive industries find it difficult to find employees with degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The number of engineering and physics students has fallen by 27% over the past decade. The bottleneck is not only evident among university graduates, but also in technical professions. Between 1984 and 2004, the number of high school graduates in chemistry and physics fell by 33% and 55%, respectively.

The UK government recently put education back on its list of priorities. In October, a white book on education policy will be published, which should pave the way for the so-called city academies, which should replace the worst schools in the inner cities. But London is running out of time. At the 1997 party conference, Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that his priority was "Education, Education, Education". In the opinion of many observers, very little has happened in this regard.