Levelling up: FE, skills and R&D take centre stage in government white paper

The government’s white paper sets targets to increase R&D investment and uptake of further education outside of the southeast of England

The government has announced its plan to ‘level up’ the UK in a white paper that sets targets to improve educational outcomes and research investment outside of London and the southeast.

The strategy includes plans for a new Innovation Accelerators, Future Skills Unit and Local Skills Improvement Plans.

Institutes of Technology – established through partnerships between universities, further education colleges and employers – will be able to apply for a Royal Charter.

The draft legislation sets out 12 missions “to level up” the UK.

Research and development

By 2024/25, ministers want domestic public investment in research and development (R&D) in areas outside of the southeast of England and London to increase by 33%. By 2030, they want investment figures across all regions to be 40% higher than today’s levels. The plan says this public investment should leverage “at least twice as much private sector investment”.

The white paper sets out the challenge before ministers: presently, 54% of R&D spending is in London, the southeast and east of England. While the Greater South East area has improved its share of gross R&D by around one percentage point a year since 2017, it took the rest of England the eight years to 2019 to achieve this same level of growth.

Three Innovation Accelerators are to come on stream, the white paper pledges. These ‘clusters’ in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow, backed by £100 million of “new funding”, will aspire to attract new business and researchers out of London. Nationwide 4G coverage, gigabit-capable broadband and 5G service for most Britons are also targetted by 2030.

Skills

By the start of the next decade, ministers want the number of people “successfully” completing “high-quality” skills training to “significantly” increase across the country. Figures compiled by the Department for Education (DfE) referenced in the report show that, since 2011/12, adults on funded FE courses and apprenticeships peaked at nearly 2m in 2012, after which numbers declined every year, halving by 2020.

The new target uses pre-Covid (2018-19) post-19 further education and skills training figures. The number of learners completing these courses was 1,467,600, but that figure slipped to 1,040,800 in 2020/21.

This new target means that, in England, 200,000 more course-completers per annum by 2030, with at least 80,000 in the lowest skilled areas. This objective, the white paper states, excludes higher education. The Local Skills Improvement Plans will cover all areas of England, handing statutory roles to employer bodies and “stakeholders” in planning skills training.

A Future Skills Unit will identify the type of education and training needed in different areas of England. The potential of a Royal Charter will offer IoTs the chance to “secure their long-term position as anchor institutions in their regions, placing them on a par with the UK’s world-leading historic universities”.

Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery
– Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up

Ministers also want to see satisfaction with town centres, local culture and community improve – all factors that can help cities retain and attract high-skilled graduates. The government promises the £2.6 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be “decentralised to local leaders as far as possible”, so investment in skills and local business is tailored best to regional requirements.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove said: “For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.

“Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery. This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”


Read more: Martin Jones: ‘Levelling up is so relative. It is a classic political faux pas’

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