Universities UK has issued a report declaring the partnership of universities, further education colleges, local economic partnerships and employers to be, in its words, the “Route to High-Level Skills”. University of Derby Provost (Academic) Professor Malcolm Todd explains that that route is a trail already blazed here.
The ‘Routes to High-Level Skills’ report from Universities UK (UUK), advocating stronger partnerships across the country between higher education and further education bodies, makes it clear that co-operation rather than competition will help meet the demand for the high-skilled roles needed to drive our economy forwards in years to come.
The potential disruption in the flow of high-skilled workers from abroad in the wake of Brexit has dominated the immigration debate in recent months. It is undeniably a concern for industry and a challenge for us in the education sector to close the ‘skills gap’.
The University of Derby has a pivotal role in addressing this issue in our region. Over the past two decades, we have firmly laid down our footprint across Derbyshire as the county’s only university and as a provider of further education. Specifically, the amalgamation of Buxton and Leek College with the University has allowed us to offer a mix of further and higher education, vocational and academic.
This means we can support our students through their educational journey from the age of 16 to the point they are ready to embark upon their chosen careers, or take up further study.
A growing academic network
Our offer is not just limited to the region, however. As we enter Colleges Week, I am delighted to highlight that we have established academic partnerships with colleges across the country. These partnerships are delivering University of Derby-accredited programmes and enabling students to access our higher education closer to their homes. Our network of partners continues to grow.
We are immensely proud of our teaching quality at Derby, and the accolades and achievements that reflect that. Securing strong outcomes for our students is at the heart of what we do. We treat all of our students as individuals and they work alongside side us as partners to shape our future.
We make no apology for the frequency of our use of the word ‘employability’. It reflects our ability to cultivate skills and knowledge that will set our students on their chosen career path. 76.2% of those completing their courses at Derby last year progressed to graduate level employment within six months. Factor in all of those moving into employment or further study within that time and the figure rises to 96.3%.
Responding to regional skills needs
The UUK report also highlights the importance of further and higher education providers working with local economic partnerships (LEPs) to contribute to regional prosperity and meeting the requirements of employers. Our strong partnership with the D2N2 LEP places us at the heart of key discussions about skills needs and shortages across our region. We are in the privileged position of being able to respond to those needs by refining our vocational and academic offer, enabling our students to move, with confidence, into private and public sector employment within Derbyshire and further afield.
There are two key issues to address in our region: The number of young people from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire entering higher education, and the proportion of residents in the counties with higher education qualifications. We know that young white working class people do not access higher education at the same rate as other demographic groups ; almost a third of employers in the D2N2 region have struggled to find employees with the skills they require . As a university with a high proportion of undergraduates living within a 40-mile radius, and almost half originating from the East Midlands region, our challenge is to understand and address these issues.
Our presence in local schools allows us to promote the life changing opportunities that exist in further and higher education. We are leading the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Collaborative Outreach Programme (DANCOP) in partnership with Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities and many of our local further education colleges. This month DANCOP takes its STEM bus on the road, complete with classrooms for STEM subjects, to give young people in communities with no tradition of higher education a fun and inspiring glimpse of what it can offer them.
It is not the first time that a call for collaboration has arisen. A 2017 Department for Education review of the region requested (based on responses from local employers), “greater collaboration between further education providers, higher education institutions and employers to develop higher level apprenticeships would be welcomed” .
We are already providing apprenticeship programmes at that level for a range of sectors, from nursing and policing to business and engineering.
We have adapted our offer and established strong links with schools, colleges, our local economic partnership and employers not only to give our students the skills and knowledge and experience needed for them to develop successful and rewarding careers, but to help produce the talented workforce that our region – and the nation – needs. ‘Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children’ House of Commons Education Committee (2014); ‘Education secretary demands action on low number of ‘white British disadvantaged boys’ going to university’ Independent, 8 October 2018  ‘A report on skills mismatches in Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire LEP’ – D2N2/Centre for Progressive Capitalism (2017).  ‘Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Area Review – Final report’ Department for Education (2017)