Great Debate: Education hasn’t failed business


A line can finally be drawn under the issue of whether education has failed business after a debate involving leading figures from the worlds of business, media and academia concluded that it hasn’t.

Much has already been said on the subject of whether education is doing enough to prepare students for the world of work but at Deloitte’s inaugural Great Debate, which took place in the prestigious debating chamber of the Cambridge Union Society, the issue was finally put to bed.

More than 250 people attended the debate to hear an illustrious panel of speakers give their views on the subject, but despite the best efforts of those arguing for the motion, the house finally concluded that education has not failed business.

Arguing for the motion was former CBI director general and Minister of State for Trade and Investment (2007-08) Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham, award-winning journalist and author Allison Pearson, political columnist and associate editor of the Daily Telegraph Simon Heffer, and Dr Ewan Kirk, ex-Goldman Sachs and CEO and founder of Cantab Capital Partners.

On the opposing side was Lord Eatwell, president of Queen’s College, Cambridge, and professor of Financial Policy at the University of Cambridge, serial entrepreneur Alex van Someren, David Cleevely, co-founder and chairman of spectrum monitoring company CRFS, and Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of programmes and support at BAE Systems.

Lord Digby Jones opened the debate with a stinging attack on the UK’s “illiterate and unemployable workforce”, saying, “not only has education failed business but that education has failed the nation”. However, his claims were quickly rebutted by Nigel Whitehead, who said: “Education sits as part of the nation’s ecosystem. To single out education alone discredits our ambitious UK businesses.”

Dr Ewan Kirk said the issue lay with the curriculum and the nation’s “obsession to achieve”.

He added: “Exams no longer provide a clear barometer to differentiate between bright and dim students. With so little take up of business subjects compared to arts it is no surprise that the supply to the market lacks appropriate training.”

But Alex van Someren disagreed. He said: “The fact that students have the freedom to choose which job offer they accept is evidence in itself that education was providing competent students.”

After the speakers’ final comments, the debate was concluded by the chairman, James Counsell, President of the Cambridge Union Society.

Andy Swarbrick, partner at Deloitte in Cambridge, said: “This was a really impassioned debate and clearly struck a chord with those who attended. There were some really convincing arguments put forward from both sides but in the end those arguing against the motion narrowly won it.”


The Deloitte Cambridge office comprises 8 Partners and over 250 staff who deliver a full range of professional services to the East Anglian region. As well as focussing on the life sciences and technology sectors for which the region has become so renowned, the office has long standing specialisms in other sectors including the professions, consumer business, food and agribusiness.

Deloitte LLP