When it comes to education, should business leaders have a bigger seat at the table?
According to GE’s annual Innovation Barometer , it looks like that’s what they want. The report, which surveyed 3,000 C-suite executives in 25 countries and took their temperature on a range of issues affecting innovation and competition, found that business leaders highlighted education as one of their top policy concerns.
When asked about the most pressing priorities for governments to support innovation, they ranked improving education just above fighting bureaucracy and protecting IP. In particular, they indicated that schools should encourage more entrepreneurial cultures through partnerships with business savvy individuals and develop curricula that better prepares students for future jobs.
The survey also indicated that, globally, executives’ confidence in education systems had fallen an average of six points over last year, although the confidence of U.S. executives increased.
The report comes on the heels of a number of interesting U.S.-based efforts by business leaders, particularly those in technology, to support education. Microsoft backs the Philadelphia School of the Future and works with high school students in Seattle to teach them computer science. Schools in Newark got a $100-million gift from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a few years ago. And, in New York, two new tech-focused schools launched this academic year supported by big business and local venture capitalists. The Academy for Software Engineering, for example, opened with the support of Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson, as well as other local and industry leaders. And IBM jointly created the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech), a six-year computer-science related high school that offers graduates the chance to apply for IBM jobs.
Corporate-sponsored education has its critics, who worry that students will get too steeped in the culture of business or won’t get pushed enough in critical thinking. Education observers also point out that past attempts haven’t always been successful — after launching in the early 1990s, New York’s Metropolitan Corporate Academy was eventually shut down after support from Goldman Sachs waned. But as the economy shifts and the demand for new skills rises, it’s important that business leaders step up to support the schools in their communities, as long as educators can keep their interests in check.