Last Friday, I met a group of local businesses at a breakfast organised by Lloyds Bank to discuss the economy and understand their concerns. We had a discussion on tax and red tape, but the most lively debate was on education and how this equipped people for work.
This was timely as, earlier last week, Havant MP David Willetts had published a White Paper on higher education.
We all agreed that we needed a more highly-skilled workforce if we were to compete globally. The challenge was how to ensure that today’s school leavers had the right skills.
There was quite a lot of discussion about the choice between university on the one hand and apprenticeships or more technical training on the other. People rightly expressed the concern that university was seen as the only route to progress in life and this led to people, wrongly, looking down on other pathways.
The challenge of making the right choices has become all the more pressing because of the change in university fees. Whilst repaying student loans depends upon how much you are earning once you leave university (with no-one earning under £21,000 a year paying anything) it is important that students know about the employment prospects of graduates from various courses.
This was one of the proposals made in last week’s White Paper. With more information about employment outcomes it was felt young people could make more informed choices about which path to follow.
The other point they made was the need for better information for young people at an earlier age, such as guidance on choosing GCSEs and A-levels. We are starting to make progress on this and I think it will improve their prospects and those of our economy.