The Northern Powerhouse concept is approaching a crucial time in its development – in order for it to succeed it is vital that the north can harness the three key elements required for economic growth: “research”, “innovation” and “skills”, and in order for this to happen a large emphasis is being placed on the future of the region’s education system.
Recently there has been a lot of focus on underperforming schools in the north. Back in February Offsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that the whole Northern Powerhouse initiative could “sputter and die” if youngsters in the north are not given the education and skills they need to succeed later in life. This is true, however higher level (e.g. graduate) skills are just as important. If the north is to enjoy an increase in prosperity it is vital that its higher education institutions continue to produce good quality graduates, and that local job markets and infrastructures are sufficient enough to keep these graduates and their families living in the area. With 29 universities in the Northern Powerhouse region (seven of which are part of the research focused Russell Group) producing approximately 78,000 graduates a year, the potential is clear to see – and with their renowned research, science and manufacturing facilities, the north’s universities can certainly hold their own against anything currently available in the south.
However, as well as providing first-class training for graduates, we also need to ensure that higher education institutions are able to provide the research, technology, innovation and support for graduate business startups. Key to meeting this goal will be collaboration between the universities of the region, and a great example of this can be seen in 2015’s “Yorkshire Innovation Fund” – an initiative in which a number of universities partnered to provide funding and assistance to innovative small business in the region. The project was a great success and contributed approximately £1.32 million to the Yorkshire economy, proving what is possible when large institutions pool their resources and work together. With the economic windfalls gained from initiatives such as this, coupled with a steady supply of ambitious, intelligent northern graduates, education has cemented itself as a major cog in the wheel of the Northern Powerhouse.