University ‘cold spots’ mapped by Hefce

The “cold spots” of higher education have been mapped in a new project

October 1, 2014

The data reveal that the border between England and Wales, the Cumbrian coast, Humberside and North Yorkshire, the East of England and the South West have the lowest levels of higher education provision if population numbers are taken into account.

The map, produced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, is just one of a series that probe the relationships between higher education, student mobility, employment and undergraduate study participation.

Hefce said that the interactive data can be used by universities to help provide local solutions to gaps in provision.

Earlier this year David Willetts, the previous universities and science minister, asked Hefce to look at making information more available so that universities could address cold spots in provision.

Madeleine Atkins, chief executive of Hefce, said: “The data shows us that the issues associated with higher education cold spots can often be complex.”

The maps look at the nationwide coverage of provision for different subjects, as well as unemployment rates and the proportion of the population that have higher education qualifications.

Student mobility data suggest that London exerts a pull on graduates who grew up in surrounding regions. The further from London a student lives before attending university, the more likely it is that they will find work in their home region. Six months after graduating, 80 per cent of graduates who grew up in the North East were employed in this region, compared with just 56 per cent of those who grew up in the East of England, for example.

Professor Atkins added: “Universities and colleges play a key role as economic and social ‘anchors’ in their local and wider communities. Working with local partners in this way to reach a joint understanding of the issues that affect them collectively, they can make an important contribution to the ongoing development of Strategic Economic Plans, and also, of course, to decisions about where and when to invest different forms of funding.”

Commenting on the data, Alison Wolf, Sir Roy Griffiths professor of public sector management at King’s College London, said that “pouring public money” into a location does create “direct local beneficiaries”.

“But there is nothing in the research literature to suggest it automatically strengthens the wider local economy in the short or the long term. And if economic growth is what you are after, there is nothing to suggest that building yet more new universities is the most effective use for public money,” she added.

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