UWE Bristol concurs with University Alliance report that shows shortage of graduates will harm UK economy

Issue date: 27 March 2012


Professor Steven West, Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol, concurs with the findings in a new report 'The way we'll work' launched today by the University Alliance. Professor Steven West is the incoming Chair of the University Alliance.

He says, “Budgets may be limited but we should be stating the case for increasing the capacity for higher education places in future years if we are to grow our economy and ensure a bright future for more young people and for those who are re-skilling and equipping themselves in a changing work environment.”

The new report shows that a shortage of graduates threatens the UK economy. Contrary to popular belief, labour market indicators suggest that there is a shortage of graduates in the UK, rather than too many. The report draws on the large body of evidence on the shape of labour markets in developed economies.

Technology is changing the way we work and the structure of the labour market, resulting in an increased demand for graduate attributes.

In light of these projections, the Coalition Government's decision to cut around 25,000 university places for next year could seriously hold back our capacity for economic growth. Professor West continues, “At UWE Bristol we are seeing a reduction of 1000 fte students this year. It is clear students want to study at UWE Bristol and we have had to make difficult decisions to accommodate the reduction in our intake.”

In response to the report, University Alliance is launching university_vision, a sector-led project being sponsored by Hewlett-Packard and bringing together a diverse mix of thought leaders to identify the big challenges facing the higher education sector.

Commenting on the findings in the report, Libby Hackett, director of University Alliance, said, “The messages coming out of this report have major implications for government policy. Too often we hear it said that 'there are too many graduates' in the UK. It is important to look at the evidence behind this claim as our response to it will have serious consequences for the future wellbeing of our economy and society.

“Advances in technology are transforming work – what we do and how we do it. Sustained growth in graduate level jobs has been linked to the complementary effect of technology on occupations involving analytical, problem solving and complex communication activities: typically graduate attributes.

“Our report shows that the UK economy is not presenting any of the four labour market signals we considered in this report that might suggest there are too many graduates in the economy. Graduate vacancies continue to grow. Jobs in 'graduate dense' occupations are an increasing proportion of the total workforce. Graduate employment rates have been maintained despite the rapid expansion in the number of graduates. Added to all of this there is still a significant graduate premium.

“Universities and graduates play a vital role to the future wellbeing of the UK and this is why we are launching, university_vision which will explore, amongst other things, how the UK needs to be preparing itself now to deliver the workforce we'll need in the future to remain globally competitive. This initiative is being led from within the sector and will focus on solutions and outcomes, identifying how the sector can drive its own policy agenda; serve society and the economy; and seek out new and innovative ways to anticipate, approach and tackle the challenges of the future.”

Professor Steven West concludes, “Youth unemployment is at record levels while demand for going to university is high. Social mobility is at a standstill, yet we know that in our changing economy it is a university degree that creates more opportunities for people than anything else. Applying logic would see the total number of university places increased.

“We are living in a world where the creation and application of knowledge and skills is key to the health and wealth of countries. It is essential for the UK economy that universities continue to grow and prosper, offering opportunity and transformational experiences for our citizens. This is about investing in our futures and it is critical we support and fund it appropriately. The UK shows no signs of producing too many graduates for the work profile we have and it is important we don't close out opportunities that are needed for economic growth.

“Our global competitors are continuing to invest heavily in expanding higher education despite their own budget deficits. In contrast, England has had to reduce the number of places available at university to control expenditure. To equip the population to find continuing opportunities in the labour market and to meet the growing need for graduate attributes, we must continue to seek ways to increase investment - public and private - in universities.”

For a full copy of the report see http://www.unialliance.ac.uk/

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