Given pride of placement

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Industrialist sets up charity to boost college lecturers'

know-how. Steve Hook reports

Lecturers will be able to brush up on the skills they teach thanks to a Pounds 1 million scheme to pay for staff to go out to industry placements.

A charity set up by industrialist and academic Sa'ad Medhat is inviting colleges to bid for the cash to cover placement costs.

He says further education gets fewer resources than the universities, despite being expected to provide ever-more vocational training. He also believes that some lecturers' knowledge of industry is outdated because requests for placements cannot be met by colleges on tight budgets.

The charity, the New Engineering Foundation, hopes the scheme will provide placements for more than 100 lecturers in up to 70 colleges in the first year. It estimates that this would affect the quality of teaching for 60,000 students.

The money has been raised by the foundation through other charities, with some support from private industry.

Professor Medhat said: "What companies really want is people at level 4 (foundation-degree equivalent). When I go into colleges and see what they are trying to achieve, I see they are working with minimal resources, often in derelict buildings. You think, 'Wow, they are trying to achieve so much with so little.'

"They need to keep their skills up to date. It's easier for a university lecturer to get this sort of help. If universities are to expand, that will come from foundation degrees in colleges. If we don't help them, the Government's aspirations for colleges and universities will come to nothing."

Colleges can apply for awards of pound;10,000 in return for allowing three lecturers to spend three weeks in industry. On their return to college, lecturers will be expected to share what they have learnt with their colleagues.

Professor Medhat said: "The colleges can spend the money as they like - on new equipment or on providing cover for staff who are on placement."

The launch of the fund follows the charity's research in 81 colleges. It identified a demand for extra training among lecturers. There were also concerns about weak links with industry and a lack of cash in colleges'

coffers to pay for the development of lecturers' technical know-how.

There is a similar scheme in Northern Ireland, run by the Learning and Skills Development Agency. Lecturers into Industry was thrashed out between Jimmy McKeown, Northern Ireland secretary of Natfhe, the lecturer's union, and David Hatton, chief executive of the Engineering Training Council. Dan Taubman, a Natfhe national official, said the union welcomed the awards and would help the foundation to promote them.

Mr Taubman added: "We are very pleased to see someone doing something practical and realistic rather than just complaining that lecturers are out of touch. We want to support this and promote it."

Professor Medhat's previous jobs include a high-profile position with computer company IBM, where he had responsibility for getting new products on to the market as quickly as possible.

He sees that experience as important to his new role.

"I come from a business background of doing rather than talking - that's the approach we're taking here," he said.

The pound;1m will be spent over three years, and funding will continue if the scheme is a success.

* steve.hook@tes.co.uk

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