BT Boss: Give Us Quality - Not Quantity; GOVERNMENT PLANS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION UNDER ATTACK

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Byline: TOM MCGHIE

The head of a leading employer has launched a biting attack on the Government's plans to boost the number of graduates.

Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of BT, says the policy of 'churning out far too many people whose skillsets are less than brilliant' is flawed.

He claims that the aim of getting half of all school-leavers into higher education by 2010 threatens to destroy excellence.

And his concerns have led to BT restricting its search for new recruits to the leading universities.

Verwaayen says the solution to meeting the needs of high-tech industries lies in Government and business boosting the funding for top universities.

'There is no point in destroying excellence,' he says. 'If it means spending more money on longterm funding for the top ten per cent of our universities for both academic salaries and PhD funding, we had better find it.' The proportion of young people going on to higher education has risen from 33 per cent in 1995 to 43 per cent last year.

The BT boss says that Government and industry should be willing to invest in expensive courses that require laboratories and the latest technology.

Verwaayen feels that political leaders are focusing too much on the number of graduates and not on whether supply matches demand. This year, BT recruited 260 graduates from the top 30 universities and a handful were selected from leading Continental institutions.

The telecoms giant is also spending millions on building strategic alliances with Cambridge University, University College London and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. …