How Business Can Help Our Top Researchers 

Chancellor George Osborne’s recently promised £106m over five years to support 20 doctoral training centres focussing on science, maths and engineering is to be welcomed. The planned centres are aligned with industry, endowing them with a much-needed practical focus. But they could also greatly benefit from close relationships with the business world.

For Osborne, Britain needs to be “leading the world in science, technology and engineering” – but it takes more than PhDs to be a world leader in any discipline, and this is where business can step in and really add value.

Serious input into these doctoral centres from our business leaders could contribute significantly to the skilling up and ultimate competitiveness, in the global market, of our science and engineering post-doctoral students. Where academic work, especially at this level, provides extremely rigorous scientific and analytical training, targeted teaching and mentoring from the business sector could provide a welcome injection of real-world commercial ‘nous’ as well as the practical marketing savvy that’s essential to thrive in today’s ultra-competitive high-tech environments. Instilling a business-like pragmatism into our post-doctoral researchers would be a great investment in the UK economy, and one whose rewards we would reap for generations.

The Chancellor has also committed to doubling the number of apprenticeships on offer to young people, extending the grants available to businesses so they can offer some 100,000 more across the country, as well as developing new degree-level apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships were once part of the very fabric of British industry and commercial acumen; this was because invaluable skills were learned hands-on from experienced mentors and teachers in the workplace. Increasing financial support for apprenticeships in the 21st century is a very encouraging move, since it inherently values the on-the-job learning and pragmatism that has been – and can be once again – the backbone of our working lives.