From education to employment

Evidence of Retention of Skills and Work in Cornwall Provides Salutary Lesson

Living in one of the G8 countries, the phrase “migration of skills and intellectual labour” can often be replaced with a more common sobriquet ““ the brain drain.

There is a growing concern that the most skilled and technically proficient workers in the UK are moving according to broader geographical and economic concerns. This would appear to be concerning central Government; hence the continuing reference to the “skills gap” and the ongoing fear that work and investment will migrate from these shores and settle in one of the emerging powerhouses such as China or India.

A National Perspective

Taking a national perspective rather than an international perspective, one of the areas of the country most commonly associated with the term “brain drain” is Cornwall. Many of the young people leave the county to find better prospects for their future careers, which they believe will be harder to achieve should they remain. Recent figures indicate that there are 10 % fewer 16-24 year olds in Cornwall than anywhere else in the UK. Furthermore, figures indicate that 7,000 young people leave Cornwall every year.

Cornwall is officially the poorest county in the British Isles, according to statistics. It is seen as an unequal county with house prices in Truro some of the highest in the UK whilst salaries remain 25% below the national average. In the South West the problem of urban deprivation has yet to be successfully tackled, with former mining communities struggling to improve their wealth.

EU Aid

Cornwall does benefit from generous EU regional aid alocations. Through local, regional and European financial support, a partnership of eight universities and colleges within Cornwall is establishing itself as a force for bolstering economic regeneration. Some £120 million has gone towards linking its higher education establishments, encouraging more undergraduates to study in Cornwall. It would seem that there are positive effects already being felt as last month (June) it was announced that the Cornish economy is growing at a faster rate than any other region across Europe, and faster than any other EU – assisted region in the UK.

The latest figures were released by the EUs statistical office Eurostat. They demonstrate that not only is Cornwall and Isles of Scilly the only EU region to have raised its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by more than 10% between 2001 and 2003 (up by an impressive total of 10.5%), but it has also taken a leap out of the category which originally qualified it as an Objective One assisted area. Cornwall and Scillys GDP – the measure of wealth creation in the workplace – has now crept above the critical “75% of the EU average” threshold. In 2003, it stood at 75.8%.

County Council Portfolio Holder for the Economy, Andrew Mitchell said: “These most recent statistics show is that structural funding, coupled with an imaginative programme and sheer willingness to change things for the better, is a formula that works. And it appears to be working better here in Cornwall than anywhere else in the UK or across Europe.”

Route to Success

Intricately involved in the progress was the University College Falmouth, a major catalyst involved in some real innovations within learning in Cornwall. Individual colleges and HEIs have developed some practical initiatives to engage learners and to retain them. In addition, the partnerships have served to help the students to become part of Cornwall’s workforce, thus spreading their “intellectual capital” and re-energising the local economy.

Creative Enterprise Cornwall (CEC) is one of those projects offering financial support to students. It is run by University College Falmouth and it covers all eligible Postgraduate students at University College Falmouth. Part funded by the European Social Fund, this fund is for postgraduates and it can mean up to one third of tuition fees paid, approximately £1,000. For the student to get the full remission, they must donate 40 hours of their time helping a Cornwall based business. Businesses in Cornwall benefit enormously from this scheme. A prime example is Make-do and Mend; a growing business, based in St Day, an area of deprivation.

Lesley Moreland a University College Falmouth MA student, studying Textiles has been adding real value to the business.

Philippa Roberts, the owner, explained:

“We”ve launched a new venture called Waste Not, and we couldn”t have done it without Lesley. Waste Not is a recycled clothing company and with Lesley’s help we”ve defined our audience, tailored our products to suit the market and our production capabilities and managed to secure two substantial orders, we”re selling wholesale to retail outlets and I couldn”t be happier. Lesley has helped stimulate new ideas and she knows a lot about textiles, it’s been valuable to get and outside view, and it’s true, as the saying goes, sometimes you can”t see the wood for the trees. Lesley has helped unlock our potential.”

Lesley Brings Energy to Table

As a mature student Lesley has bought experience, talent and energy to this Cornish business, worth far more that the £1,000 funding. Lesley said: “The discount in fees wasn”t my primary motivation, but I know that it is for some students. I found the first term heavy going, this is an incredible course with lots of input and also lots to take in and I was concerned how I could juggle everything and give time to Make-do and Mend.

“I chose Make-do and Mend because I live in St Day and I”d met Philippa before, Philippa has strong ethical principles and is really contributing to the local community, and she has bought employment opportunities to St Day. And I needn”t have worried about the juggling, I have a fantastic personal tutor, all the staff are marvellous, the library is wonderful, being a “book hoover”, I really appreciate it and working with Make-do and Mend has been so worthwhile, I”ve really made a difference, and you can always find time for that.”

It would seem that EU funding has served to benefit the people of Cornwall; however, the application and dedication of the people in their communities has proven to be the catalyst after all.

Jethro Marsh

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