Why graduates matter to Yorkshire

Op-ed by Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director for Yorkshire Universities

The higher education sector is one of the UK’s greatest assets, generating significant economic, social and cultural value. Research commissioned by Universities UK, in 2022, found that universities in England contribute around £95 billion to the economy and support more than 815,000 jobs, Higher education is also a sector that is as diverse as it is productive. In each nation and region, universities of different shapes, sizes and specialisms work with businesses, communities and policymakers to encourage and nurture the next generation of talent. Yorkshire’s universities are pivotal agents within the region’s skills system, helping to drive increased international trade and attract new inward investment and jobs.

Data published last week by the Higher Education Statistical Agency revealed that more graduates, nationally, are in full time employment than at any point since 2017-18. Unemployment levels are down amongst the cohort that completed their studies at the height of the COVID pandemic. The graduate wage premium is also holding firm.

In Yorkshire, 68,000 students graduate each year from across the twelve institutions that together form the membership of Yorkshire Universities. Our region’s universities are providing the skilled workforce needed to deliver vital public services. The higher education sector in Yorkshire is also instrumental to producing the entrepreneurs who will power an expanding digital economy, as well as the innovators and technicians who will be at the heart of the Government’s drive for the UK to become a genuine science superpower.

Supporting students and graduates into the world of employment and enterprise is a core element of individual university strategies. But there is much more that can be done together to connect graduates into emergent job opportunities in Yorkshire, by encouraging and enabling stronger collaboration within higher education, and between the sector and public and private employers. Through partnership, we can grow and sustain graduate retention in the region.

In May 2022, a multi-stakeholder Task and Finish Group, commissioned by Yorkshire Universities, published a wide-ranging report, entitled Supporting Graduate Employment and Employability in Yorkshire. The report set out a practical guide for how best to learn from, build on and scale up existing good practice in the region, increase the sharing of data and information, and co-create and co-deliver more employment schemes and interventions in conjunction with students and graduates. A series of actions were identified on how to improve graduate employment and employability within the region, including: improving student and graduate readiness for the changing world of work; providing more in-study and work experience opportunities; strengthening tailored careers and enterprise support; and providing clearer entry points into universities and lines of communication for employers with higher education providers.

Today, a conference at the University of Huddersfield, will see universities, employers and partners review how the recommendations that featured in the report have been implemented during the last twelve months. Over the past year, Yorkshire Universities has worked alongside Local and Mayoral Combined Authorities to improve the connections between graduates and new job opportunities emerging in the local government sector in Yorkshire. We have also supported the Civil Service Places for Growth Programme, and we have shaped the new in-study student placements pilots launched last month in the Sheffield and Leeds Civil Department for Education Hubs. As a member of the Yorkshire Building Society’s Financial and Professional Services Skills Commission, I am leading Yorkshire Universities’ engagement with the Commission, chaired by John Heaps, in its detailed examination of how universities and graduates can meet the projected future skill needs of a growing financial services sector in the region.

Higher education is a significant catalyst and enabler of increased social mobility, and universities are required to take steps to widen participation and increase access to post-18 education. The conference in Huddersfield will also mark the launch of a new Regional Inclusive Recruitment Guide for Employers, which includes practical recommendations on how employers can recruit students and graduates from a diverse range of backgrounds. The aim is to help employers that are looking for skilled labour to draw upon as wider spectrum of talent as possible. This would be a win for graduates, for business and for Yorkshire overall.


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