Higher-level skills for the future

Guest blog by Professor Tim Thornton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Huddersfield

One of the key strengths of the Leeds City Region is its unique concentration of world-class universities, and the diverse contributions that each makes towards the higher-level skills and innovation agendas. As part of the wider Yorkshire region, Leeds City Region can rightly-claim to be a ‘skills magnet’, which is able to attract new forms of inward investment and act as a seedbed for regeneration and growth.

The Leeds City Region has nine top-class Higher Education Institutions, with a combined student population of nearly 118,000. That is a remarkable ‘cluster’ for an area its size.

Leeds City Region attracts and retains skilled people through these universities. Consistent with previous years, recent ‘Destination of Leavers from Higher Education’ survey data suggests that the region is able to retain and attract graduate talent in a way that few other places can match. Over 10,000 graduates who originated from Yorkshire completed their studies here and went on to secure a job locally; a further 3,500 from outside the region came to do a degree and stayed to work here. That is more than twice the number brought into their respective regions by the universities of the North East, or the East of England, for example – proportionately the biggest influx anywhere and more in absolute terms than in any other region outside London and the South East.

Innovation and skills drive and complement each other. Universities possess a distinct capability to deliver higher-level skills in alignment with the economic, social and environmental goals behind the pursuit of more and better innovation, and as part of the objectives embedded within national and local industrial strategies. Increasingly, in the eyes of many high growth-oriented firms and organisations, skills and innovation are inseparable, and through its local universities the Leeds City Region has the capacity to deliver the skills to match and further stimulate the extraordinary innovation opportunities and challenges being addressed inside the labs, workshops and studio departments in the region.

While 20,000 graduates enter the labour market each year, in Yorkshire, we should not be blind to the risks of missing out on further opportunities. Graduate retention appears not to be the policy priority it once was, and although only 1,400 graduates who studied in Yorkshire chose to go elsewhere for employment after graduating, these individuals could be encouraged back to work here. We must take advantage of the opportunities for growth while there are no caps on student numbers. And we should note that other regions are growing their higher education student numbers faster. We should be looking for ways in which we can further encourage collaboration between universities and industry, especially SMEs, to increase placements, internships, higher & degree apprenticeships, and innovation projects that also engage students, so that people locally and beyond can see the benefits of study and careers here in the Leeds City Region and elsewhere in Yorkshire.

We should not lose sight of the fact that Leeds City Region draws talent from every part of the UK and from across the globe. The reputation of universities is a key asset here. Our universities’ international students, who want to come and develop their skills alongside other organisations, at undergraduate, masters and researcher levels, are a fantastic resource. Whether these graduates stay to become part of a highly-skilled workforce or choose to return home and become key influencers in inward investment decisions, their role in the long-term development of the Leeds City Region is immensely powerful, and something for us all to celebrate.

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