The battle to reverse graduate brain drain

George Osborne
George Osborne

Schools in the North of England need “urgent attention”, according to the first report by George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse think tank.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), an independent body launched last year and chaired by the former chancellor, was due to release its first report in Leeds today.

The report, developed with input from more than 200 businesses and civic and academic leaders, aims to identify what needs to be done to build a Northern Powerhouse where people want to live, invest and set up businesses.

It recommends “urgent attention” is given to improving the performance and aspiration of schools in the region.

According to the report, the area loses 30,000 graduates a year as students choose to move away after completing their studies. Also in urgent need of improvement are the transport infrastructure, fibre and broadband provision and the level of ambition in local decision making, the report said.

Mr Osborne said the region is at a “turning point”. He said: “We can either make use of the momentum behind the Northern Powerhouse to really close the North-South gap, or we can let the moment pass and leave our country divided and the North left behind. Get it right and the northern economy will be £100bn bigger, with more jobs and higher living standards for all.

“Many issues have been raised with us, from transport connections to devolution. But one challenge stood out: education. Our education system, right the way from the start of school to higher education, must provide the next generation with the skills, inspiration and training to fulfil their goals and build our economy.

“There is now overwhelming evidence that attainment at 16 is too low in the North, leaving us lagging behind the UK and international competitors. We also let go of far too many talented graduates.

“I will be asking a group of leading employers and education leaders to work together with the partnership to draw on the latest evidence and thinking to examine a number of key issues to put this right.”

NPP board member Lord Jim O’Neill said: “It is critical that key transport infrastructure is in place to allow people that live in the Northern Powerhouse to work together as one and not in isolation, and to connect with global markets.

“But transport infrastructure alone is not sufficient. We also need more ambitious decision making locally, and better high-speed broadband. Something that also shines through in this report is that the education system in the North is not currently performing to its potential; in fact it is currently falling behind the South.

“We need an education system that promotes and retains talent and we need to gain graduates, not lose them.”

Last month a £556m boost for the Northern Powerhouse was unveiled by the Prime Minister in the Government’s new industrial strategy for a post-Brexit Britain. The plans include an overhaul of technical education and £170m cash for a new emphasis on science, technology, engineering and innovation.