We want to draw your attention to a couple of very interesting articles which have appeared this week, both of which look at the huge potential for universities to take a lead role in driving local, economic growth. The first of these pieces appeared here on the BBC, and drew attention to a new report – Univercities: The Knowledge to Power UK Metros – written by the City Growth Commission (CGC), which is a 12-month enquiry set up by the RSA into how cities can be empowered to shape and drive their economies.
According to the BBC article:
“The research assesses how higher education can play a larger role in stimulating local economies. It says universities, which receive public money, have a responsibility to encourage local growth.”
According to Jim O’Neill, chairman of CGC, relatively low numbers of graduates stay in the cities where they study for a degree, which is something that needs addressing if universities are to play a fuller role in encouraging local economic growth:
“Surely it would be sensible to consider pursuing a number of initiatives to either help or encourage graduates to stay in the metro areas where they graduate, as a key ingredient to helping these cities prosper?”
The second piece was written by the report’s other co-author, Jonathan Schifferes, senior researcher for RSA. In a blog piece posted on the CGC’s website, Mr Schifferes argues, amongst other things, that:
“In creating prosperity across the UK in coming decades, universities need to be front and centre of strategies for growth and competitiveness… Our universities are a key asset to build on in the context of city growth strategies. Higher education is precisely the kind of knowledge industry that benefits from, and contributes to, the agglomeration economies that drive the logic of metro growth.”
So the message in both pieces is essentially the same: universities have a unique role to play in driving growth, yet they are currently not doing this to anywhere near their full potential.
We wholeheartedly agree with this assessment, and would only add that in order for the vision set out by the authors of the report to become reality, a key component of any solution must be an emphasis on local Labour Market Intelligence (LMI). Why so?
Well, as we wrote here, one of the basic reasons why universities are not driving local and regional growth as much as they perhaps should is because:
“(they) have traditionally been seen as supply-driven producers of workforce talent. That is, they supply the market with labour, without necessarily taking into account the needs and demands of the market.”
Moving to the kind of vision presented in the CGC report necessarily means moving to a more demand-led approach. That is, rather than universities simply supplying graduates into an economy which may or may not need their skills, they take steps to first find out what the needs of the economy actually are. Only by doing this can they then begin to think about realigning their strategies and even their curriculums to meet those demands.
And this is where local LMI comes into play. In order to begin to supply the needs of the local economy, you first need to understand what those needs are. And in order to understand what those needs are, you need good data on local industry and occupation trends.
- Achieve excellent graduate level employment
- Better understand regional labour market
- Improve income through better employer engagement
- Develop a demand-led curriculum model
- Develop the university’s role as an “RDA” through relationships with LEPsand other business organisations
- Contribute to regeneration of regional economy
One of the primary ways they have gone about achieving these aims was by commissioning us to produce an analysis of their local and regional labour market. The resulting report, Identifying Target Industries in the Southampton Solent Region, gave them insight and analysis in the following areas:
- An initial scan of high economic potential industries
- A focus for strategic development and planning activities
- A baseline of the region’s industry sector economy
- First steps towards building industry cluster strategies
- A detailed data analysis of sector opportunity in South Central England
- An indication of where the best potential opportunities to grow and shape the region are
In other words, through the use of local LMI, Southampton Solent have started to move away from the supply-driven model, towards a far more demand-led approach where, having taken the time to understand the needs of their local and regional economy, they are now far better placed to respond to those needs and therefore drive forward growth.
So in summary, yes universities could be doing so much more to drive growth in their local and regional economies. However, in order to do so, they will need to move to move towards a demand-led approach, using LMI in order to understand and then respond to the needs of their local and regional economies.
For more of our thoughts on how LMI can be harnessed by universities to drive growth, read our reaction to last year’s Witty Review here, and our reflections on this year’s AUA conference here. For more information about our LMI, contact Andy Durman at firstname.lastname@example.org.