June 04, 2013

An Open Letter from Sir David Bell

This is turning into a real dialetic of the Socratic Dialogues kind!

After my open letter essay to Sir David Bell, 'Why Sir David Bell is Wrong to Smack Down the Employability Concerns of University Students' was published on the Huffington Post, I was pleased to receive a response, among others, from Sir David Bell himself.

After making a request I've now got permission to publish his response. While Sir David Bell has put up a number of rebuttals to my points raised on the Huffington Post, I welcome the debate. Over to Sir David Bell:
Dear Brian, 
I read your recent Huffington Post blog post with interest. I’m glad you have drawn attention to issues of employability skills at university. It is a subject that is of genuine importance and it’s vital that we prompt debate among the public, as well as those with closer ties to the sector. I felt your blog raised some important points, but was some way wide of the mark on others.

With the current economic climate and increases in student contributions to tuition fees, it is inevitable, and in many ways welcome, that students are becoming more focused on matters of employability. However, I would argue, as was reported in the Times, that university courses ought not to be wholly ‘tailored towards employability’ – and I would disagree forcefully that university is a ‘sham’. Nor do I believe that degrees have been significantly devalued by widening access to higher education.

It is right that students today, more than ever, need to be given good career advice before, during and after attending university, to help them make informed choices. Evidence shows that other factors, such as work experience, are often crucial to a graduate’s job prospects. But this is not the same as turning degrees themselves into another form of vocational training. A good university education should be above all intellectually challenging, and help prepare graduates for the world, as well as the world of work.

I note from your website that you are interested in typography. We have an award-winning Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at Reading, which exemplifies this point marvellously. It provides courses that encourage study and research for the joy of learning and deepening understanding. They also support the development of practical skills, which contribute towards creating a highly-skilled workforce and help graduates get jobs. And with some success – 90% of former students are in work or further study six months after they graduate, and 95% of those with jobs are in professional or managerial positions.
Perhaps you’d like to come along to Reading and see for yourself? The department has a degree show for final year students from 18-22 June. More details, and a programme of the excellent work on display, are available from www.typofamily.co.uk.
With warm regards,

Sir David Bell KCB
Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading

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