The government needs to recognise the economic returns from investing in A-levels and degree courses, writes UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.
Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)
I have always been a firm believer that investing in education reaps many benefits. A better-educated society is a more tolerant one and people with an education are less likely to be involved with crime or be a drain on the country’s benefits system.
A report released today from the Institute for Public Policy and Research (IPPR), commissioned by my union, the University and College Union (UCU), makes a compelling case for education from an economic perspective.
The report – “Further Higher? Tertiary education and growth in the UK’s new economy” – shows that putting an individual through A-levels and university generates a £227,000 net gain for the economy.
For an investment of £5,000 the net return to the exchequer from someone who gains A-Levels is £47,000. A degree is worth an additional £180,000 to the Treasury from just a £19,000 state investment.
Although I would rather not simply see education in crude financial terms, this report makes it clear that we need greater investment in education if we are to stem the haemorrhaging of jobs abroad.
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With 80% of new jobs by 2020 likely to be professional or technical, requiring at least an A-level, the UK must invest now in the next generation or risk losing out in the race for economic growth. Today’s report highlights the folly of reducing public investment in our colleges and universities, especially at a time when youth unemployment is at record levels.
Industry leaders recognise the importance of investing in UK students.
In the report, Nissan vice-president for Europe, Jerry Hardcastle, says:
“In India they are churning out hundreds of thousands of graduates and we are churning out a small number and that will restrict our ability to expand.
“If they’re not available here, the jobs will move to India, Brazil and China.”
Instead of cutting places and making it more expensive to study, ministers need a strategy which harnesses further and higher education and will provide opportunities for the next generation.
The trend towards increased demand for higher qualifications is prevalent across the globe, yet, as the report shows, the UK currently invests just 1.7% of public expenditure on tertiary education, compared to 2.3% in France, 2.8% in Germany, 3.2% in the USA and the OECD average of 3.0%.
The UK will not win a race to the bottom in terms of low wages. We need to invest in areas we excel in and ensure we can continue to do so in the future. Failure to do so would seriously threaten, for example, the UK’s position as Europe’s leading manufacturer and developer of low-carbon vehicles – an industry which generates £1.5billion in research and development each year alone.
As the proportion of jobs requiring higher-level skills increases, maintaining and even expanding the number of graduates entering the workforce should be a priority across all subject areas, including the arts, social sciences and humanities.
If the government refuses to accept the many social benefits of a better-educated population, it can surely recognise the economic returns from investing in A-levels and degree courses.