Oct 17 2014

The impact of higher education on employment, mobility and local economies

Screenshot 2014-10-16 12.46.13What impact does a university have on its surrounding area in terms of employment possibilities and economic growth? How does that impact vary from area to area? Where do students go after they graduate?

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is trying to establish answers to these questions and many more.

It is the first time that HEFCE has combined school and higher education data with employment and mobility data in order to create a clear, comprehensive outline of education participation and provision, employment and graduate mobility.

The idea is that the new data is used to explore the link between higher education provision and economic growth. This data comes from an interactive toolkit in the shape of a series of maps focusing on local areas and topics of particular interest, such as unemployment, higher education provision, qualifications of an area and student mobility.

As a result of this research, HEFCE has identified what it calls cold spots. These are areas where HE provision is particularly low (see image). Some of the cold spots are in rural and coastal areas, including border areas between England and Wales, along the Cumbrian coast, Humberside and North Yorkshire, from Kent to the Wash and the Southwest.

But, what does the data mean and what can higher education providers do with it? “The data shows us that the issues associated with HE cold spots can often be complex,” says Madeleine Atkins, chief executive at HEFCE. “Higher education providers, working collaboratively with their local enterprise partnerships, will be able to use this powerful new toolkit to establish a detailed picture of HE in their localities, enabling them to identify any gaps in provision, participation and the supply of graduates. This provides a strong evidence base to explore potential solutions for delivering local economic recovery and growth.”

The research comes at a time when the government is talking about ensuring a more even spread of economic growth and recovery across different localities and industry sectors – not just in London and the southeast.

Atkins think the research could be used to help aid that move for more widespread opportunities. “Universities and colleges play a key role as economic and social ‘anchors’ in their local and wider communities,” she says. “Working with local partners in this way to reach a joint understanding of the issues that affect them collectively, they can make an important contribution to the ongoing development of Strategic Economic Plans, and also, of course, to decisions about where and when to invest different forms of funding.”

The data has produced some interesting results about where students live and work after graduating. It found that most students move back home after graduating to find work and that the further from London a student is brought up, the more likely they are to find employment in their home region. For example, 80 per cent of graduates who grew up in the North East were employed in this region within six months of graduating. But, 56 per cent of graduates who grew up in the east of England were in employment there six months after graduating.

The maps also show a link between unemployment levels and the percentage of the population with some form of higher education qualification. In areas around Cambridge where over one in four adults is in possession of a higher education qualification, unemployment rates stand at less than four per cent. In areas around Liverpool and Manchester, where fewer than 16 per cent of the adult population has a higher education qualification, unemployment rates are up to nearly 10 per cent.

However, the make-up of higher education provision across England’s cities is both varied and complex and some anomalies appear to exist.

In Leeds and Birmingham, for example, there are is a relatively high number of higher education institutions. However, the proportion of young people progressing through to higher education is lower than expected in relation to their GCSE attainment.

This contrasts to Liverpool, which has some of the lowest levels in the UK of young people entering higher education, but participation is actually higher once GCSE attainment is taken into account.

  • To access the HEFCE data in full, click here.




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