An education-led response to economic difficulties – comment

As Scotland looks to the future and the implementation of the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, a two-pronged approach is required.

Monday, 2nd November 2020, 7:00 am

Gill Murray is deputy principal for enterprise and business at Heriot-Watt University. Picture: contributed.
Gill Murray is deputy principal for enterprise and business at Heriot-Watt University. Picture: contributed.

It is clear that we need immediate action to move us out of the economic crisis but, also, we must focus efforts on shaping the next generation of business leaders, who will be responsible for delivering growth and prosperity as we rebuild Scotland’s economy. Nurturing today’s graduates is a priority for the challenging years that lie ahead.

Businesses and university graduates are facing a testing time, where collaboration will be of the utmost importance and where an education-led response, in partnership with industry, will feed into economic progress.

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Students leaving higher education this summer will navigate an extremely difficult labour market. According to Prospects, the graduate jobs website, 28 per cent of students leaving university have already had their job offers rescinded or delayed while many employers are yet to make decisions about recruitment for the remainder of 2020. Many SMEs have no possibility of recruiting in the current climate.

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In response to the Covid crisis and the resulting economic fallout, Heriot-Watt University has developed a unique global collaboration with a cross-sector of leading businesses with the precise aims of supporting economic recovery while addressing the challenges faced by this year’s graduates.

The programme – Future Made For Success 2020 – focuses on talent and innovation as key drivers for recovery, by placing industry collaboration and partnerships at its core and using the university’s research strengths to develop the workforce of the future.

Global businesses from the financial, energy and retail sectors have joined the programme in a bid to solve pressing business challenges, explore new opportunities and develop original, business-focused solutions in collaboration with graduates. Despite the downturn, many businesses are committed to developing their talent pools and driving sustainable growth.

These industry partners – which include multinational Dar Group and Cisco Systems – are ready to share valuable knowledge and expertise with graduates while applying the creativity and innovative thinking that students bring to the task of building economic recovery and resilience.

We want to see graduates benefiting from opportunities such as presenting their work to companies and investors, interacting closely with business leaders, undergoing industry mentorship, tackling real-world challenges, and building valuable networks and connections within industry. Those students will be better-positioned than ever to drive forward their careers and contribute to the economic recovery in Scotland.

Teaching recent graduates about the commercial feasibility of solutions as part of an enterprise development programme will enhance their understanding of business operations, their knowledge of sales, intellectual property and finance. Through supporting and developing the future workforce in this way, we can build the talent base that will nurture economic recovery for years to come.

The Advisory Group’s report called colleges and universities “anchor institutions” that should take decisive steps to align their teaching and postgraduate skills training to meet business and employer needs. Heriot-Watt University wholeheartedly agrees.

Gill Murray is deputy principal for enterprise and business at Heriot-Watt University

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