Doncaster sets ‘paradigm shift’ for ‘sticky’ lifelong learning

South Yorkshire town without university plots recovery from deindustrialisation via innovation and skills ‘ecosystem’, winning OECD praise

March 9, 2022

A “talent and innovation ecosystem” developed in Doncaster to further its recovery from deindustrialisation could model a national “paradigm shift” as lifelong loans develop, with the town urged to drive that model by attracting a university-linked applied research institute.

report by thinktank ResPublica for the Lifelong Education Commission, led by former universities minister Chris Skidmore, looks in detail at the approach of the South Yorkshire town, which does not have a university, as a “new model for levelling up skills”.

Doncaster does, however, have a “university city partnership”, which includes Doncaster College and its provision of qualifications awarded by the universities of Hull, Lincoln and Huddersfield, as well as Sheffield Hallam University.

The Talent and Innovation Ecosystem (TIE) developed by Team Doncaster, a partnership between Doncaster Council and other public, private, voluntary and community sector organisations, is “a response to the nature of the economy in Doncaster”, which has remained relatively low-skilled since the “closure of the mines and stripping out of heavy industry”, said Mark Morrin, principal research consultant at ResPublica and report author.

That low number of skilled jobs means Doncaster’s economy “is not sticky enough”, with young people often leaving for university or jobs and not returning, Mr Morrin said.

The TIE “will develop a joint further and higher education prospectus for higher-level qualifications in four centres of excellence – health and care, engineering, creative and digital and green technology”, areas identified by a study as Doncaster’s key tradeable sectors, the report says.

The project has had success in making the town’s schools and further education “healthier than it has been for several generations” and is now also focusing on the needs of adults to “upskill, reskill and retrain”, Doncaster Council chief executive Damian Allen told the launch event for the report.

Michael Stevenson, a senior adviser at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development who has been advising Team Doncaster, told the event: “From an OECD perspective, the Talent and Innovation Ecosystem is a very striking investment in place-based learning.”

Mr Morrin said: “I don’t really think that Doncaster intends to try and attract a university…If it focuses on that ‘missing middle’ [of higher education qualifications below degree level] as a way of driving up productivity, it creates that stickiness for the local population.”

Rather than having a university that is a “vehicle that will only spin people out to other parts of the country,” continued Mr Morrin, Doncaster “might actually do something different which allows people to progress through education into work, then progress [through education and training] in work”.

The report recommends that Team Doncaster “should aim to attract an applied research institution to increase R&D activity and generate greater levels of knowledge transfer in the local economy”.

Relevant here could be the bid by Doncaster, a railway town, to host the headquarters of the new Great British Railways.

“If Doncaster is looking to become a centre for railways, and if they were to get a Catapult-type research institution aligned with that ambition, connected to higher education, that would be a way of really accelerating this [innovation and skills] model for them,” said Mr Morrin.

There was a “big thumbs up” from Mr Allen for other recommendations to government from the report: that its planned national lifelong loan entitlement should include maintenance funding and “provide a single system that can bridge between modules, including microcredentials, at various levels”.

Mr Skidmore told the launch that there could be scope for other areas to “embed lifelong learning as a core priority as Doncaster has done”, calling its model a potential “paradigm shift”.

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Reader's comments (1)

Can everyone in the world work in health and care, engineering, creative and digital and green technology. Seems everyone want these areas but don't we need actual goods or is that all for China to produce.