NCUB has looked through the membership of Skills Advisory Panels and found an imbalance between university and business representation. In order to develop the skills needed for local labour markets, higher engagement from universities should be encouraged.

In late 2018, the Government published guidance on the formation of Skills Advisory Panels (SAPs) for every Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in England. In it we can find advice on the desired representation of various key stakeholders concerned with the local skills landscape, including employers, all types of skills providers, the voluntary and community sector, and other local stakeholders including local government authorities. A closer look into each LEP’s SAP board reveals an uneven distribution of board members; with strong business engagement and weak representation from Higher Education (HE).

SAPs are a place-based agenda towards addressing skills needs in the UK on a local level. They are tasked to identify and advise on the funding and investment needed for their LEP’s employment and skills provision. As such, their role is to “bring together local employers and skills providers to pool knowledge on skills and labour market needs, and to work together to understand and address key local challenges” in each LEP (DfE, 2018).

In an analysis of the make-up of 28 SAP boards, we find that representatives from individual businesses and ‘Other’ representatives take up the majority of board membership. Of an average SAP board size of 19 members, 36% are business representatives, while just around 5% are HE representatives and 9% Further Education (FE) representatives, making Higher Education the least represented group on the average SAP board. Just over one-fifth of SAP boards do not have any HE representation, and two SAPs in England have neither FE nor HE representation on their boards. Only five SAPs have more than one member from a university.

Why does this matter?

Skills Advisory Panels offer a great opportunity to bring together key stakeholders’ voices to collaboratively evaluate and address local skills challenges. The underrepresentation of local universities’ voices on SAP boards should therefore not go unnoticed.

The Government’s guidance on the formation of SAPs recommends a diverse membership of their boards, and for good reason. The requirements for a strong employer element have been fulfilled by most SAP boards, with 96% of SAP boards having at least one business member and 61% at least seven. This is against only 71% of boards having at least one FE and one HE representative, leaving the rest to lack any representation of one of the two. The role and responsibilities given to SAPs include supporting the supply of skills into local areas, providing skills advice to the accountable board of the LEP or Combined Authority  and actively working with Higher and Further Education providers to plan for how the local skills needs are to be met (DfE, 2018). These responsibilities can only be fulfilled through strong representation from both universities and businesses in all SAPs.

Collaboration between universities and business is essential in addressing local labour market needs. According to our stats, only a minority of universities in England are currently involved in their SAP, increasing this can only lead to better collaboration.


This analysis was based on 28 SAPs across England with identifiable board membership. ‘Other’ representatives include local councils, business federations and chambers, foundations, government funding agencies, churches, local and regional authorities, (independent) training providers (non-FE/HE), schools, employee organisations.