Ian Clarke, Director, Newcastle University Business School
As pressure grows on undergraduates looking for jobs, John Hill meets the man steering Newcastle University Business School into a new chapter in its history.
WHY do people go to university? When the route to graduation was less well-travelled, a college degree promised wild nights, the chance to grow up away from the nest and a headstart in the jobs market.
Now there’s a furrow in the brows of many graduates, with increasing pressure to get in shape for the gruelling battle for jobs.
A survey of final-year students by High Fliers reported that 45% viewed their career prospects as very limited, and one in six admitted they would not have headed for university had they known how tough the jobs market would be afterwards.
As director of Newcastle University Business School, it’s a key issue for Ian Clarke. It hasn’t slipped his mind as a father either. His daughter Amanda is training to be a teacher, while his son Josh is doing a masters in sports coaching.
“I don’t think I was as savvy as kids have to be now,” he says. “Careers advice was something you’d get towards the end of your degree. When I was an undergraduate, about 10% or 15% of people went to university and the Government is now striving to get to 50%.
“How do you shine in a marketplace like that? Some people go on to do masters degrees but that’s still not a guarantee. It’s about the individual and the skills they have.”
So can undergraduates afford to soak up the sights and sounds of campus, or should universities become boot camps for job training?
“I don’t think we should be doing that,” he says. “That would be a backwards step. We shouldn’t be losing that longer-term development, that holistic element of developing the individual. But we’re adding another layer, encouraging them to think about what it takes to do a job, getting them to do live projects to gain experience of business.
“There’s a danger that people will say they’re going to university to get a job. In fact, you’re going to get an education but in that process we can help you develop skills that will put you in good stead.”
Nonetheless, it is a common complaint from businesses that many graduates banging on their doors don’t have the skills required to gain entry, and it’s something that universities have had to address in recent years.
NUBS recently achieved EQUIS accreditation from the Brussels-based European Foundation for Management Development, awarded to schools with strong links with business and a focus in developing important managerial and entrepreneurial skills.
He said: “I think the big government agenda, quite rightly, has been not to accept that what we do is just about research and teaching. It’s about what you do as a university and how the programmes you teach are meeting gaps in the marketplace.
“It’s affected the programmes we put on and the research and what we do with it.
“More importantly, it’s affected how we engage with businesses. We think carefully about how we position skills in relation to business. All universities are saying they’re doing it, but the key thing is whether it’s just talk or whether it’s the reality.”
Clarke arrived from Lancaster University Management School in 2008, and says that one of the attractions of the new job was the location of the institution.
He said: “We know one of the major attractions of Newcastle University is not just the calibre of the place but the fact that it’s right in the middle of a major city centre. It’s good for social life and being in the face of business.
“It’s a fantastic university and a great city. Newcastle needs a world-class business school and we have all the ingredients here to do that.”
A key feature of this development is the construction of a £45m building at Downing Plaza, on the site of the old Scottish and Newcastle Brewery in Gallowgate, in September 2011.
“The effect is going to be phenomenal,” he said. “Everyone will be under one roof and bumping into each other every day.
“We’re also trying to define areas where we’re going to engage with business by looking at strengths elsewhere in the university. There’s world-class work going on in ageing and health, with all sorts of business opportunities attached to it. I can’t think of that many management courses that focus heavily on health as a theme but it affects how you run most businesses.
“The university also has a worldwide reputation for marine engineering and we’re looking at how we can develop those skills. We tend to focus on large companies but there are so many SMEs crying out for help.”