Education and business hand in hand
Last week, the government created the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which will have responsibility for higher and further education policy. Nobody would disagree that our universities and colleges are as much about the cultural bedrock of our society as the competitiveness of the economy. So why bring them into a department whose core remit is Britain's economic development?
The simple answer is that the mission of the new department is to build Britain's resources of skill, knowledge and creativity. These things drive our competitiveness directly, but also indirectly by reinforcing our cultural awareness, confidence and sense of our past and future.
Britain now needs to build on these strengths on the basis of a few basic principles. First, a high degree of autonomy for universities and further education has been central to their success. Second, it is possible to further boost the role of universities in generating our economic growth without in any way compromising the place of fundamental science or curiosity-driven research in their mix.
There will always be some who think that higher and further education policy does not belong in a department with business in its title. They assume that universities and colleges will somehow diminish in priority in a new department, or that economic outcomes will be the only benchmark for policy. They are wrong.
The needs of business and those of higher and further education are not always the same, and never will be. But they can and do touch and reinforce each other in important ways. At the end of the day, they are two parts of a single picture of a Britain that has the knowledge, confidence and character to prosper in a changing world.
• Lord Mandelson is the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills