In this blog, Dr Abigail Taylor, Professor Anne Green and Dr Sara Hassan share findings from their recent research project examining the role that universities and colleges in the West Midlands can and should play in up-skilling and re-skilling.
Today WMREDI are publishing findings from a research project examining the role of universities in skills and regional economic development. The research investigates key short and medium-term priorities for the up-skilling and re-skilling of school leavers, graduates and existing employees in the West Midlands. It analyses the current and potential future role of universities within this.
Based on analysis of 22 interviews conducted in winter/spring 2020/2021 with universities and selected colleges in each Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area in the West Midlands Combined Authority area, as well as their partner organisations, it contrasts experiences across the various universities.
Universities and colleges in the West Midlands are contributing considerably to up-skilling and re-skilling through developing future sectoral skills, piloting new ways of learning, supporting graduate employability, addressing access to higher education (HE) barriers, developing pathways between further education (FE) and HE, introducing applied higher-level skills development initiatives and working with regional governance stakeholders.
Strengthening partnership working across universities and regional stakeholders are crucial to effective up-skilling and re-skilling over the next decade. Key skills-focused partnership opportunities for universities relate to developing analysis of skills needs in local areas, improving support for graduates given the challenging labour market caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, better linking skills to innovation and developing higher-level skills through regional investment and R&D and innovation activities.
A number of challenges exist including: questions regarding the quality and nature of partnership working; how competition between universities can hinder genuine cooperation; the impact of bureaucratic systems and continued funding instability; different language used in policy, academia and business; competing skills priorities at a Midlands Engine level; a lack of clarity in some cases regarding roles and responsibilities at sub-regional level; and difficulties articulating future skills needs.
The research identifies 12 key short- and long-term priorities for universities and other regional stakeholders to expand their role in up-skilling and re-skilling. They include simplifying progression routes between FE and HE.
Find to more about the Universities, Skills and Regional Economic Strategies project.
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI / WM REDI or the University of Birmingham