UK ‘messing around’ with lifelong learning, Siemens chief executive says

Juergen Maier says the country is falling behind in developing lifelong learning schemes and must deliver better provision

The UK is “messing around” with lifelong learning and must improve its provision, the chief executive of Siemens UK has said.

In an interview with University Business, Juergen Maier said the UK must catch up with other countries in the provision of lifelong learning schemes.

“In Singapore, when you enter the workplace, the individual and the company make an individual contribution to a fund which the government offsets against tax, so it doesn’t cost very much to build a lifelong learning allowance. In the UK, we’re messing around with ideas,” the Maier said.

Better lifelong learning provision is needed, Maier said, because the “half-life of technology skills is rapidly shrinking”.

The model of 60% of people going to university after A-levels to do a degree is going to change dramatically
– Juergen Maier

“When a company likes Siemens creates its products, when we put it out into the market, we don’t just leave it there. We offer aftercare and potentially upgrades over 20 years.

“While I wouldn’t want to see people as products, it is useful to consider it in the same way,” the tech leader explained.

Labour has convened a Lifelong Learning Commission, which is due to publish its final report after the party’s conference. The Augar report, commissioned by former prime minister Theresa May, advocated the creation of a government-funded individual learner loan to fund post-18 training.

Maier predicts that “the model of 60% of people going to university after A-levels to do a degree is going to change dramatically” and instead a greater number of people will pursue higher level and degree apprenticeships.

“STEM careers appeal to people who are more practically minded. My feeling is a much larger percentage of those people more inclined towards STEM subjects would prefer a practical route into a career,” Maier said.

Brexit and research funding

The Siemens chief executive thinks Britain risks “losing its place as a world-leading centre for research and development” because of the scale of funding and pace of innovation in other countries.

Citing the levels of funding available in America and China, Maier said there must be more collaboration between government, universities and private companies to set goals for research and development in areas like, for example, battery technology, where the UK already has world-leading research centres in Oxford, Warwick and Newcastle.

Read more: Could Boris’s government attract more international students?

Brexit – and a loss of European Union research funds – is a big concern for the sector, Maier agrees.

“Of course, Brexit could make some research and development harder but that brings us back to the importance of collaboration. Investors and private sector partners are crucial to maintaining the income flow,” Maier explains.

Asked if there were better models of university and private sector collaboration in other countries, Maier replied: “To be honest, it’s less about generic models. The trick is for universities, companies and government to get together around leading themes for technology that we really want to accelerate, like in battery technology, for example.”

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