“LEP projects can help universities and businesses to identify skills needs, today and for the future, and refine their course offerings.”
The challenge of creating local growth belongs to us all. The Witty Review made logical and helpful recommendations on how universities may contribute to local growth. But there’s more that can be done, I believe, through local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).
Most LEPs have higher education representation on their boards. At this very moment there is a vacancy for a higher education rep on the London LEP, and it has been announced that the Dorset LEP director post will be hosted by Bournemouth University.
LEPs recognise that the role of universities is pivotal to local growth, while LEPs themselves have built employment and skills boards into their structures. Many are drawing up local skills plans: the Humber LEP has a skills pledge to help retain graduates in the local area.
So what next? The publication of Sir Andrew Witty’s report was timely. LEPs are preparing their strategic plans for March 2014, which will be used to access Lord Heseltine’s single pot of funding for local growth and will set a direction of travel for each area. Consensus on priorities across LEP partners will drive local growth.
If they haven’t already, now is the time for universities to contact their LEP to influence strategy. Employability skills are always mentioned by businesses, so universities – the producers of local graduates – have an important job to do. LEP projects can help universities and businesses to identify skills needs, today and for the future, and refine their course offerings.
Universities are huge local employers, and there is much they can do to kick-start innovation and growth. They could offer apprenticeships and internships. They could work with the housing sector to improve student accommodation options. Through ‘fab labs’ and business support schemes, they can encourage the public and small businesses to seek advice through local universities.
Universities and LEPs are paving the road for a closer collaboration in pursuit of local growth. Schools and further education colleges will be expected to follow in their footsteps. Perhaps a Witty-style review of FE will be next?
Lorna Gibbons is Senior Economic Development Officer at Poole council and Manager of the LEP Network.