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The UK needs to invest more in science and developing the technical skills of its workforce if it is to catch up with its competitors on productivity, Liam Byrne, the shadow universities minister, has said.
He told delegates at GuildHE’s annual conference that only 15 out of 200 apprenticeships go up to higher education level, and “that needs to change” to help build a knowledge economy and dig the UK “out of the hole we are in” due to flagging productivity levels.
Graduate job prospects also needed to improve to bring about economic improvement, other speakers argued.
GuildHE Chief Executive , Andy Westwood, highlighted the rise of the “Gringo” - graduates in non-graduate occupations, who, he said, now make up almost half of recent graduates.
Setting out key political challenges for HE after the general election, he said all political parties are looking to HE to unlock productivity and growth, but “we`ve never made it happen.”
The political party which offers graduates opportunities for meaningful jobs will win the student vote, according to President of the National Union of Students, Toni Pearce.
NUS polling suggests amongst the majority of students who intend to vote, most of those don`t yet know who to support.
“They will vote for a party that can offer them something better than low-skilled work or the graduate rat race: something worth voting for,” she said.
Rejecting the notion that a market in higher education can be relied upon to deliver a system that benefits society, the NUS leader said “an unfashionable conversation about the public value of education” was needed.
In a passionate and warmly received speech, the NUS leader talked about what her ideal student experience survey would look like.
“It would ask students about how their values and perspectives have been changed by higher education, about the opportunities that have been afforded them to be part of a social change, and about the connections they have made through the networks they have formed, whether as researchers, activists, volunteers or employees on a placement.”
On the key issues of university funding and student fees, messages were a mix of the sobering and inconclusive.
Liam Byrne said he was waiting for the Autumn Statement: “Student finance will be an important part of the picture that we need to get right. Quite frankly, no one knows what's in the budget for higher educaton. It's a system which is broken and it's a system which is going to need to change.”
Andy Westwood`s analysis was blunt, saying whoever wins the election will not have much money to work with.
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