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New research: Government’s “lifetime skills guarantee” will not benefit up to 80% of non-graduates at risk of losing their jobs

The UPP Foundation has today released two reports on the role of universities in the ‘levelling up’ agenda, and on addressing the forthcoming employment crisis

COVID-19 Jobs Report Levelling Up Towns Report

Map of Universities in England and Jobs at Risk in Nearby Towns and Cities

[Please note, the map isn’t mobile compatible]

  • The Government’s flagship commitment to a “lifetime skills guarantee” won’t cover 75%-80% of non-graduate workers at risk
  • New UPP Foundation analysis of towns and cities across the UK suggests that a total of 5m jobs are at risk from the areas most affected by Covid; 3m of which are non-graduate jobs and 2.4-2.5m of which are not covered by retraining commitments
  • Polling for the report shows that many non-graduates want higher level training, rather than just a new Level 3 qualification – and are not motivated to retrain in areas of shortage skill in the economy

Up to 80 per cent of workers who lose their jobs in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic will not be covered by the Prime Minister’s plans for a “lifetime skills guarantee”, a major new research and polling study has found.

Two reports published today by the UPP Foundation, an independent Higher Education charity, founded by University Partnerships Programme (UPP), have concluded that the scheme’s proposed restrictions on qualifications and sectors would leave at least 2.5m unemployed workers without access to free training.

Last month, the Prime Minister outlined a “lifetime skills guarantee” focussed on a commitment for all adults to access a Level 3 (A Level equivalent) qualification in a series of pre-defined subject areas. Yet the UPP Foundation analysis of the educational background of the labour market suggests that between 75% to 80% of all non-graduates already have a Level 3 qualification – and under the rules of the scheme would not be able to access the scheme.

Analysis of the towns and cities most affected by the economic shock from Covid by the UPP Foundation suggests that as many as 5m jobs across the country are categorised as “at risk or vulnerable to an economic downturn” – of which 3.1m are among non-graduates. This means that between 2.4 and 2.5m of the non-graduates identified in this report would not benefit from the PM’s guarantee.

Additionally, the research also found that those likely to be made unemployed are not motivated to retrain for careers in sectors that have current skills shortages – the courses which provide skills covered by the PM’s new scheme – for example, coding. For example, just 14 per cent considered that because a training route might lead to a career in a sector in which skilled professionals are at a premium would be a reason to choose a course.

Adult non-graduates also express higher aspirations than the PM’s policy allows for. Some 37% would like to gain a university degree – including 57% of 18-24 year olds, 50% of 25-34 year olds, and 39% of 35-44 year olds.

Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said

Taken together, it is clear that the prime minister’s choice of a Level 3 qualification in a specific field – most likely to be chosen based on labour market shortage – is likely to appeal to only a tiny fraction of the 3.1m individuals at risk of unemployment identified in our report – and be open to even fewer.

What we need instead is a lifetime loan account and ability for even more learners to be able to access life changing education through local universities and colleges, including for shorter and more technical courses.

Today’s report also shows that universities can be at the heart of a civic renaissance in the Red Wall and beyond. It’s clear that voters are highly supportive of universities, but universities also need to meet voters’ priorities – on schools, on the NHS, and on the renewal of the high street

Background notes

The UPP Foundation has today released two reports on the role of universities in the ‘levelling up’ agenda, and specifically on addressing the forthcoming employment crisis. Both reports include opinion poll findings.

The reports find that:

  1. At least 5m jobs are at risk from a COVID driven economic recession, but 75-80% of those most as risk of unemployment won’t be covered by the Prime Minister’s flagship commitment to a “lifetime skills guarantee” because they are either not eligible or want higher level training, and are not motivated by opportunities in shortage areas of the economy.

Analysis of the towns and cities impacted by unemployment shows that:

  • Certain towns are greater at risk as a proportion of their labour market either because they have higher than average number of workers engaged in sectors which are particularly at risk of Covid shutdowns and changing patterns of consumption or because they are more structurally disadvantaged.
  • However, large scale job losses are not contained to more economically disadvantaged areas. The scale of job losses means the impact is spread all over the place. We estimate that around 2m jobs are at risk in medium sized towns nationwide. The biggest jobs impact in purely numerical terms, given their size, will be in cities – many of which are otherwise affluent. A further 3m jobs are at risk in these cities. Metropolitan.
  • The Foundation has also released an interactive map showing the location and scale of vulnerable jobs across the country and the location of nearby universities. This is here:

Further polling by the UPP Foundation of the motivations and desires of non-graduates shows that:

  • Many non-graduates in the labour force are unaware of the scale of economic disruption. 20% of those in work think that it is likely or very likely they will be made redundant. But 47% do not want a new job and are not looking, and 57% of those currently in work think that their industry will be as big, or bigger, in ten years’ time. One third of respondents want to stay with their current employer for more than three years.
  • 41% who do want to change jobs also want to change industry or career with it. But only 31% of non-graduates think they will definitely need new skills for a new job or career; a further 38% think they would need it for some new roles but not others.
  • Only 46% of the sample think that the PM lifetime skills guarantee is of interest to them; 40% said no and 15% are unsure. Of those who said no, the most popular reasons given are
    • Already have a Level 3 – 39% of those who are uninterested
    • Do not want to retrain – 34%
    • Do not want to go to FE college – 17%
    • Don’t think it is practical – 16%
  • This cohort has aspirations for higher level training. 37% of non-graduates would like to gain a university degree – including 57% of 18-24 year olds and 50% of 25-34 year olds, and 39% of 35-44 year olds.
  • When offered a broad range of courses and disciplines in which they could hypothetically retrain, there is no clear consensus. Even when asked to choose a wide range of disciplines as possibilities, over 8 in 10 respondents do not choose one of even the most popular topics. In other words, there is no consensus among skills which learners would want to do
  • Similarly, when motivations for learning are probed, the fact that a job is in a shortage occupation and there are many more people needed in that industry does not serve as a major motivator. The most popular reasons for people retraining to a new job or career – whether they are actively considering it or not – are
    • I can do the new job at home or close to it – 36%
    • It pays more – 34%
    • It allows me to balance family commitments – 28%
    • It has high job security – 24%
    • There are lots of jobs in this industry and there will lots more people needed to do it in the future – 14%

Taken together, it is clear that non graduates are relatively passive about the idea of retraining, even those who feel at risk of redundancy. But when pressed, their motivations and choices are wide faceted and multi varied – but with a desire for higher level training. In other words, a choice of a Level 3 qualification in a specific field – most likely to be chosen based on labour market shortage – is likely to appeal to only a tiny fraction of the 3.1m at risk individuals identified in our report.

  1. Universities have an opportunity to drive the next stage of the ‘levelling up’ agenda but need to focus on local priorities, not their own priorities

The second of today’s reports builds on the Civic University Commission released by the UPP Foundation last year, and considers how universities can become civic – including in areas where they do not have a physical presence.

It particularly considers how universities can support the post industrial towns which were key to the Conservatives’ political victory and which remain highly politically salient. It draws from focus group and polling work in Darlington, Oldham and Doncaster, as well as national opinion polling.

The report finds strong support from such voters for universities. Many could name without hesitation all the universities around where they lived. But the report also finds they were speaking from a position of low engagement.

  • Over a third of people have never visited their local university – rising to 42% of C1C2 voters
  • 59% of respondents want universities to play a greater role in their local economy
  • 50% of the public agree that universities can and should be involved in the delivery of government services in a local area.

The report concludes that there are five areas which all universities ought to have a focus through the levelling-up agenda:

  • Town centre regeneration – improving the physical environment of the local area, including the high street, as well as other local amenities, including through support for cultural and entertainment facilities
  • Jobs and economic localism – supporting, directly or indirectly, jobs in the local area for residents, including attracting graduates to move to the area, or move back to the area, and boosting the economic capability of the local area
  • Boosting educational attainment in schools and for adults – distinct from widening participation or raising aspirations, this includes direct upskilling both for school aged children, particularly at secondary level, as well as adult education for those in and out of the labour market
  • Research and development and innovation in the area – applying and implementing research into local challenges, which can be taken forward by third parties, as well as supporting knowledge exchange and innovation for new and existing businesses
  • Supporting the NHS – as trainers of professional medical staff, but also improving public health through student and research activity


In order for universities to maximise their civic contribution – and to make a reality of the shared desire for a national system of upskilling and retraining – the reports recommend:

  1. A) A true national retraining scheme

Much of the PM speech highlighted areas which we expect to see in the forthcoming Skills White Paper. There is a huge opportunity for this to be a wider scale change to the funding and structure of tertiary education to support lifelong learning. Specifically, the report today recommends that, through the Skills White Paper:

    • Learners have true funding flexibility for retraining through a Learner Account or similar, which allows them – not the state – to decide which courses they wish to access. Rather than funding on the supply side, funding would be better on the learner demand side through the more flexible higher education loan system trailed by the PM
    • Such funding is restricted not just to Level 2 but through into Level 3 and on to Level 4 and 5. This is in line with the clear desire of learners to access training at a higher level. It would also allow learners to flow onto Level 6 undergraduate provision if they wanted to. Again, the rhetoric of the PM speech is clearly in this direction, with the referencing of higher technical qualifications at Level 4 and 5 – it is just that the £2.5bn commitment does not fund this. The White Paper and Augar response should fill this in.
  • If some form of targeting is desired, then it should be focussed on wider employability of such courses, and the links with employers, businesses, local communities and civil society. It may be that government wants to ensure some form of targeting to restrict demand and ensure value for money. This would be in line with repeated statements around low quality courses. We think the best indicator is to use data on the employability records of these courses
  • Universities should be closely involved with FE colleges in providing such training, particularly at the higher levels. Again, the clear policy intention of the government is for a proportion of government HE provision to shift to shorter courses, degree apprenticeships, and Level 4 and 5 provision. It would be odd to have a separately funded and standalone national retraining scheme or lifetime skills funding guarantee that does not allow learners to study via a university, working in partnership with its local FE colleges.
  1. B) Universities at the heart of levelling up

Making a reality of the civic agenda will require universities to place a focus on achieving change in their community – backed by additional funding. The report recommends:

  • Government should allocate a proportion of the Towns Fund and other programmes aimed at high street regeneration to a major programme of community development in local town centres. This fund would use the capabilities of universities as local civic institutions to revitalise towns. Government would provide capital funding to a partnership of civic actors including a university to redevelop a part of the high street – either dilapidated shops or build a new community asset in the town centre. Universities would need to be part of consortia bidding to build, manage, and provide services through these new buildings – including a commitment to remain there for a period of ten years as an anchor tenant.
  • Universities should work with civil society organisations such as access charities to develop a new nationally available, but locally designed and delivered, tutoring and mentoring scheme – recognising that Covid-19 led to a widening of education gaps, and attainment raising and aspiration work that will likely lead to greater inequity in those applying to HE.
  • Universities should be designated as a primary ‘surge capacity’ provider to the NHS and to the wider public sector and society for health crises. In practical terms, this means they should be funded by the NHS through a dedicated “NHS capacity fund” to run a permanent surplus capacity in terms of medical research, facilities, medical kit, and staff. These resources can be used in day to day university business in normal times – essentially providing additional funding from the state for universities to allow them to do more research and teaching – on the quid pro quo understanding that such resources must be able to be deployed to the NHS and government, should they need it, on almost instantaneous notice as surge capacity.
  • The Shared Prosperity Fund should support a major interdisciplinary research programme looking at ‘levelling up’ post industrial towns. University research should be at the heart of the debate and the research should be practical and be immediate, specifically look at the actions universities can take – either in the lead, or in support of wider civic action. This should be done with international partners, recognising that post-industrial decline is a global phenomenon across much of the developed world.
  • To support this, the Civic University Fund outlined in the original Civic University Commission ought to be doubled, from £500m to £1bn over the next five years. The allocations of the existing Towns Fund, worth £3.6bn, should hypothecate a proportion of spend towards capital regeneration in left behind areas and into renewing high streets.

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