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The West Midlands Combined Authority states that its key activity across this area in 19/20 will be:
- Prepare our young people for future life and work
- Accelerate the take up of good quality apprenticeships across the region
- Create regional networks of specialist technical education and training
- Support inclusive growth by giving more people the skills to get and sustain good jobs and career
- Adult Education Budget (AEB)
The areas in which it hopes to deliver the most impact include:
- A reduction in youth unemployment
- A reduction in unemployment and economic inactivity
- A reduction in % of population with no qualifications
- An increase in % of population with level 3+ qualifications
- An increase in apprenticeship starts
As a region, the West Midlands is blessed with an abundance of outstanding Higher Education institutions and its impact in terms of both economic and social development is vast. Research undertaken by the region’s Covid-19 Economic Impact Group (EIG) shows the universities of the West Midlands (Aston, BCU, Birmingham, Coventry, Warwick, Wolverhampton) are collectively worth an estimated £12bn to the West Midlands, with student spending believed to account for more than £4bn (4%) of the total value of the regional economy (£105bn).
However, Education is also one of the areas that the Office for Budget Responsibility indicated in its April ‘reference scenario’ would be one of the sectors most negatively impacted by the pandemic, alongside Manufacturing, Retail and Real Estate.
Over the past ten years, the UK higher education sector has significantly expanded its international footprint, both recruiting more international students to come and study in the UK but also by offering UK courses ‘in-country’. The COVID-19 pandemic has created (or expanded) huge black holes into virtually every single institution across the country and particularly those with whom international student recruitment is high. Whilst the expansion of the sector (both at home and abroad) has provided education opportunities to millions globally; provided thousands of jobs across the world and helped to enhance the global, reputation of the country, is now the time for the sector to redirect some of its focus more locally and at how it can play a more leading role in the Great Recovery of the nation? This isn’t to playdown the economic or social impact that the vast majority of organisations deliver within their localities at present, but one only has to look at the huge challenges which remain across the West Midlands in terms of the population’s education and skillsets to think that there has to be more we can do together to ‘level the playing field’.
There is also the broader issue of how we retain the graduates who studied within the region’s great universities. There are so many aspects to successful graduate retention for a region; from the creation of ‘degree-level’ employment; having places where graduates want to live and work; having both excellent physical and digital connectivity as well as positively comparable cost of living. What can we do as a region to ensure that we retain the talent that we have helped to educate to enable even greater economic and social benefit to the area.
The West Midlands has some big challenges ahead with regard to the education and skills of its population. Even before the pandemic, 7.1% of 16/17 year olds were ‘NEETs’ (Not in Employment, Education or Training) within the West Midlands compared to 6.0% for England and there were 283,700 West Midlanders of working age who had no qualifications, equating to 11% of the region’s population versus the UK level of 8%.
The number of Apprenticeships decreased last year to 29,230 – significantly below the regional target of 80,000 and it’s not clear how the recession will impact the scheme or if Government will continue to fund the scheme to the extent it has been able to (and what the future of the levy may be for business post COVID-19).