Business leaders in the North East have welcomed a report which puts pressure on the Government to reduce the North-South divide.
As reported in The Journal last week, The Smarter Regions Smarter Britain report, compiled by the university think-tank million+, said North East graduates contribute £1.4bn to the regional economy.
However the report argues the region could be doing so much better with greater support from Government and concludes the Government is not taking advantage of the contribution universities and their graduates make to regional economies, culture and society.
It highlights the case for universities to be placed at the centre of strategies to boost regional growth, citing collaborative initiatives at the University of Sunderland as examples of best practice.
Professor Peter Fidler, University of Sunderland Vice-Chancellor, and recently appointed North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) board member with the higher education remit, welcomed the report.
He said: “This highlights clearly what the majority in the region already know, that graduates add real value to the North East economy, as well as to the wider society.
“There are many examples, from the region’s five universities, of the impact the institutions and their students are having on the economy.
“What is evident is that even more could be achieved through greater support, such as that mentioned in the report.
“The NELEP is working closely with universities to support the skills agenda and help boost the regional economy – greater collaboration between universities and businesses, suggested in the report, is a key element within this.”
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North-East Chamber of Commerce, said: “The North East’s five universities are so vitally important to our economic growth, as this report shows. Fundamentally, we should embrace and implement the recommendations in this report for the benefit of graduates, businesses and the whole North East economy.”
Sunderland City Council Leader, Coun Paul Watson, added: “Sunderland City Council works very closely with and has strong links with the University of Sunderland.
“The council already recognises the importance of the university as a key city asset in the Sunderland Economic Masterplan. Universities and graduates help their host cities to prosper by broadening the knowledge base through research and development.
“They bring about cultural change, they create entrepreneurs, and all this helps generate economic growth. This is what we mean when we talk about Sunderland being a ‘new kind of university city’ in our Masterplan.
“As a council, we would very much welcome reforms that could unlock more of the growth and potential that is held within all our universities.”
The University of Sunderland, a member of million+, which supports the work of Post-1992 universities, has been highlighted in the report as an example of best practice, with positive measures to enhance student and graduate employability, work experience and in helping small businesses to utilise the talents of students and graduates.
The million+ manifesto urges the government to adapt a raft of policies. Proposals include the use of receipts from the sale of the student loan book to set regional targets to boost the number of people with high-level qualifications and create 50,000 additional postgraduate places linked to part-time courses with a professional, industry or public service focus.