Education and skills have long-term effect on cities’ economic well being

Education and skills have long-term effect on cities’ economic well being

guardian.co.uk |by Robert Booth on July 12, 2012

closed coal mine, barnsley

People living in former coalfield communities of Barnsley are facing a battle against poverty today. In 1901, the town was in the bottom 20 for skills levels. Photograph: John Giles/PA

The long-term economic health of towns and cities rests on investment in citizens’ skills and professional qualifications, according to a study published on Thursday examining the effects of 111 years of change in urban life in England and Wales.

Cities with the highest numbers of well-trained and educated residents in 1901 are found to be among the best performing places today, while those with the lowest skills base in Edwardian times tend to be the most vulnerable economies today, according to the research by the Centre for Cities thinktank.

The report’s authors claimed the research has significant implications for policymakers and “illustrates that short-term cuts in expenditure on the policies that support cities to boost skills, from education to transport infrastructure, are likely to result in a big bill for government in the medium to longer term”.

Seven out of eight of the best performing cities today had above average skills levels in 1901, including Oxford, Brighton, Crawley and London, the study found. Meanwhile 80% of cities with struggling economies today fell into the bottom 20 cities for skills levels in 1901, including Grimsby, Middlesbrough, Barnsley, Stoke and Burnley. Figures for 1901 were collated using census data and the figures for today are based on national statistics and government data.

“History tells us that failure to invest in city economies has long-term effects for the UK economy,” said Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities. “The government needs to preference the policies that support cities to grow – the research shows that skills and transport in particular can shape the economic health of a city. Ensuring the education system prepares children for the world of work when they leave school is vital for those children and for the future health of the UK economy.”

The thinktank is urging the government to combine investment in core literacy, numeracy and IT skills with investment in technical courses such as engineering, a skill it warns is likely to be in shortage over the next decade.

The health of economies was assessed in 2010 using a range of factors including economic output, growth in private sector jobs, unemployment and wages. Skills levels in 1901 were based on numbers in professional occupations such as banking, insurance, accountancy, as well as merchants, and commercial and business clerks.

The study found that cities like Preston, Warrington and Swindon have progressed much more quickly than others. For example, the skills of Warrington’s population are more highly developed now than in 1901, when it was in the bottom 5% of cities. Now it falls within the top 20% of cities for skills and according to the thinktank’s index of economic indicators. The report’s authors attribute the trend to state investment in transport networks, both road and rail.

The balance of power between cities was dramatically different at the turn of the century, according to the analysis. The coastal towns and cities of Southend, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Hastings and Brighton had the highest number of people in higher wage occupations, while Bournemouth, London and Blackpool had the highest property values per member of the population. The city with the most joint stock companies per head of population, a measure of enterprise, was not London, but Cardiff, followed by Bradford and then London. Liverpool, which was described by Benjamin Disraeli as the “second city of the Empire”, was ranked as one of the most economically buoyant in 1901 but by 2011 it tanked among the 20% worst performing in the UK.

Venture capitalist gives £75m for Oxford’s poorest students

Venture capitalist gives £75m for Oxford’s poorest students

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on July 11, 2012

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Oxford University

42.3% of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake in 2011 was from private schools. Photograph: Alamy

It is common for altruistic billionaires to make their mark in brick, steel and glass on a university campus or to sponsor one of the more fashionable branches of research, but Michael Moritz will leave a legacy in flesh and blood.

The venture capitalist, born in Wales and living in California, announced the biggest philanthropic gift for undergraduate financial support in European history on Wednesday. A £75m gift from the multimillionaire investor and his wife, the novelist Harriet Heyman, will fund £11,000 scholarships for the poorest 10% of Oxford students.

Moritz, who attended state school in Cardiff and graduated from Christ Church, Oxford with a degree in history, said he was moved to help others by his father’s escape from nazism.

Moritz, who has invested in a string of internet successes including Google, PayPal and YouTube, said he owed his existence to “the generosity of strangers”.

Speaking at a press conference in London, he said: “My father was plucked as a teenager from Nazi Germany. He was able to attend a very good school here in London entirely on a scholarship. He went on to study at Oxford and had a PhD financed entirely from a scholarship.”

The Moritz-Heyman scholarships will be available to students whose family income is less than £16,000, who are selected for Oxford. The first 100 will be awarded this autumn.

Moritz-Heyman scholars will receive financial support to cover living costs, while the university will waive most of the £9,000 tuition fee. They will have to find £3,500 for tuition, which can be borrowed as a government-backed loan.

In addition, they will receive financial support during the holidays and will participate in a tailor-made internship programme to help them on to the career ladder. In the first wave, priority will be given to students of science subjects and those who are disadvantaged, such as coming from a school that performs below the national average at A-level or being in care.

Charlotte Anderson, an Oxford undergraduate who was sitting alongside Moritz at the press conference, said: “Having been offered a place it was a serious consideration by my parents, who had never been to university, whether I was able to take my place, simply because of whether they would be able to afford it. That seems absurd now, but all they saw was the idea of a huge debt and the stress that is attached.”

The latest figures, for 2011 entry, show 42.3% of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake were from private schools. Less than a quarter of the intake were from comprehensives. Nationally, a third of all those achieving three A grades at A-level are privately educated.

The scholarship gift will be made in three tranches of £25m, which will be matched by £25m from the university’s endowment. Oxford aims to raise a further £50m from donations. The next slice of Moritz-Heyman funding will be given when £100m has been raised for student support.

At present just under 1,000 Oxford undergraduates – about one in 10 – are in the lowest family income bracket.

Within three years, it is expected more than half of these students will receive a Moritz-Heyman scholarship, and Oxford envisages this scheme or an equivalent scholarship will be extended to all the poorest students.

The scholars will be asked to return to their schools and encourage pupils to apply to Oxford.

Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, said: “Oxford is already offering the most generous undergraduate support package in the country. But this remarkable and hugely generous gift and initiative from Michael and Harriet allows us to go an important stage further towards our goal of ensuring that all barriers – real or perceived – are removed from students’ choices.

“It provides extraordinary support – financial and personal – for outstanding students.”

Moritz described the initiative as a “fresh approach” to student funding in Britain which was “fuelled by philanthropy, catering to the dreams and aspirations of individuals determined to excel, while also safeguarding the academic excellence on which Oxford’s global reputation stands”.

David Cameron welcomed the gift, saying it meant students from disadvantaged backgrounds would get help to study at a world-leading university.

Moritz stepped back from the day-to-day running of his firm Sequoia Capital in May after announcing he had a manageable but incurable disease. He remains chairman.

Before joining Sequoia, Moritz was San Francisco bureau chief for Time magazine.

In 2008, he and his wife donated more than £25m to Christ Church, the biggest single gift in the college’s recent history.

Oxford said the new pledge was believed to be the biggest gift for undergraduate support in European history. It is believed to be one of top five philanthropic gifts ever made in the UK for any single cause.

How the gift compares

Cambridge

The Gates Cambridge scholarships were established in 2000 with a $210m donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This was the biggest single donation Cambridge has received. The scholarships enable applicants from outside the UK to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject at Cambridge.

Harvard

In 2008, David M Rockefeller gave $100m to Harvard, his alma mater, to support international study for undergraduates and expand arts education. Harvard’s biggest ever gift was $125m from the Swiss philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss to fund a bioengineering institute. Harvard has the largest endowment fund of any university in the world, with assets of around $31bn, according to Forbes.

Stanford

In 2001, the Hewlett Foundation gave $400m to help build Stanford’s endowment for the humanities and sciences and for undergraduate education. William Hewlett, who set up the foundation, qualified as an electrical engineer at Stanford before founding the Hewlett-Packard company, better known as HP, in 1939.

Headteachers signed up by ministry to praise Gove’s free school policies

Headteachers signed up by ministry to praise Gove’s free school policies

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on July 11, 2012

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Michael Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove is due to announce the next wave of free schools soon. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Civil servants at the Department for Education were asked by Michael Gove’s advisers to enlist sympathetic headteachers who could act as defenders of controversial government policies, including the creation of free schools.

The PR operation involved creating a database of sympathisers who could advocate policy instead of ministers. Quotes from headteachers on the database were added to official announcements. It was shut down amid concern that it risked politicising the civil service.

The education secretary, who is due to announce the next wave of free schools imminently, has faced mounting criticism in recent weeks.

The Stakeholder and Advocacy team was established within the DfE last April as the government prepared for the opening of the first free schools.

One source with knowledge of the operation said: “It was just a pretty simple database: anyone supportive of free schools or academies or back-to-basics 1950s schooling was just dumped on the database, you could roll them out with an announcement – to back it. It was all driven by spads [special advisers].”

The new drive marked a shift from the traditional civil service method of using data to back government announcements, the source said. “DfE [in the past] would just put out loads of data; Tory spads were from a softer PR background and wanted to use case studies.”

The aim was to have headteachers advancing policy rather than ministers, the source said.

Headteachers on the list included Patricia Sowter, head of an academy school, who spoke before Gove at the Conservative party conference in 2010.

Press releases from the DfE in the past year have frequently included supportive quotes from headteachers. An announcement about the new school admissions code had a quote from Rob McDonough, headteacher at West Bridgford school in Nottingham, which read: “I very much welcome the direction of change. Through greater school autonomy, and the academies programme, which will positively impact upon standards, I do believe this will increase the supply of good school places for parents.”

McDonough told the Guardian: “In that particular instance, I had as a headteacher been invited to work on the working party looking at the new admissions code. The fact that as a practising headteacher I’d been offered the opportunity to look at all the new admissions proposals, I was very appreciative of that. If they’re putting my name to that on a press release, it’s justified.”

External endorsement has been an important source of support at a time when Gove faces intense criticism. The education secretary’s proposed reforms have been attacked by senior figures including Lord Adonis, the former schools minister, and the director of the Institute of Education, Chris Husbands.

Gove is due to announce which free schools are approved to open in September 2013 before parliament rises on 17 July.

While the Labour government also sought out supportive headteachers, Gove’s team wanted to put this PR operation on a formal footing, another source said. The operation was closed down amid concern about how the people on the database were selected, and that civil servants were being asked to do work that was the province of special advisers. The civil service is required to be politically impartial while special advisers assist ministers in areas where the work of the government and governing party overlap.

“If you were being uncharitable you could say it was using civil servants to wheel out Tory supporters,” a source said.

Civil servants would be encouraged to add names to the list by ministerial aides who said: “This guy’s good, we know him from Tory circles.”

In response to questions in parliament from the Labour MP Lisa Nandy, the government confirmed the team was intended to “improve relationships and build understanding of the department’s policies with key stakeholders”.

Nandy said: “I asked these questions because I was increasingly concerned about the politicisation of the civil service. It has been incredibly difficult to get answers to parliamentary questions and FOI requests out of the DfE, and particularly in relation to this group on why it was disbanded so suddenly.

“If you set that within the wider context of the last two years – public money awarded without a proper tendering process to an organisation run by a former [Gove] adviser, Tory donors brought on to the board of the Department for Education, an outside body linked to the Tory party directing civil servants, and private emails used to discuss official business – it seems there is a blurring of boundaries between the Conservative party and the civil service, which is a significant cause for concern, and deserves answers.”

The PR drive was established after the media strategist James Frayne was appointed Gove’s director of communications. Frayne, a former campaigns director at the Taxpayers’ Alliance,  has written about the importance of “mobilising third parties”.

Frayne is leaving the DfE post at the end of August to work for the Republicans in this year’s US presidential elections.

A DfE spokesman said: “The Stakeholder and Advocacy Team was created in the spring of 2011 and existed for just over six months. In that time it helped stage events on the curriculum and on maths and science policy. It also generated lists of interested parties that were invited to events and kept informed about departmental policy. It was closed as part of a restructure which halved the size of the communications team.

“All civil servants operate under the civil service code. Any substantive allegations of breaches of the code would be investigated in the usual way.”

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