Leading Article: Universities should not be tied to business

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Until 11 months ago there was a separate department for higher, further and adult education. Gordon Brown set up the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, also known as DIUS, after he came to power in 2007. It made sense to separate higher education from schools to show that it was important in its own right and deserved its own department – and linking universities to innovation and skills chimed with the political mood. Universities are about the life of the mind, but they are also important engines in the UK's economic development and many undergraduates regard a degree as a ticket to a job. The three areas were obviously linked.

The DIUS took time and £7m to establish. So, it seems amazing that it was dismantled last year by Lord Mandelson and subsumed into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Labour ministers said the new department was designed to help Britain out of recession. But higher education believed it was too big and that universities would play second fiddle to business. Hopefully, the new government will restore higher, further and adult education to its own department or put it back with schools. Merging education with business sent out the message that the only sort of education that mattered was the sort that led to employment, says the University of the Third Age. It has a point.