It is disappointing to learn that more than 40 per cent of university graduates studying in the North East leave to find fame and fortune elsewhere. Such a huge figure underlines one of the barriers this region must overcome if it is to restore its historic position as an economic powerhouse.
The statistic, based on 2016 education data, reveals that many graduates head for the Midlands and the South East, instead of settling down on home turf. There is a push and pull factor. A greater range of opportunities and higher wages versus the perception that jobs “up North” are low-paid and low-skilled, following the collapse of the region’s traditional heavy industries.
However, there is reason for optimism and this provides encouragement for those students currently waiting to enrol at the North East’s five, world-class universities. Each has responded to the need to plug the brain drain with a range of initiatives promoting entrepreneurship, signposting career paths and encouraging the development of cutting-edge industries. Their research and shared knowledge is a key driver in the creation of a new and modern economic landscape.
A recent Tech Nation report found the North East is home to the fastest growing tech sector outside London, and next year sees the opening of The National Innovation Centre for Data in Newcastle. The city has reinvented itself as a centre for healthcare, biotechnology and stem cell technology and aims to become a leader in science and digital technology with the creation of the £350m Science City project.
The region is harnessing its engineering heritage, to become a world-leader in the field of Offshore Renewable Energy, while Nissan’s Sunderland plant leads the company’s production of electric vehicles. Meanwhile, plans have been announced to further develop the region’s Building Information Modelling (BIM) expertise with a £40m international centre for connected construction.
This region was built on innovation, entrepreneurship and hard work and can proudly point to a string of engineers and inventors, such as railway pioneers George and Robert Stephenson, whose ingenuity changed the face of the world. Success breeds success and it’s vital that everyone – academia, the public sector, business and industry – continue working together to reboot the North East’s spirit of innovation.
The region already employs 28,000 people in the IT and digital sector and has the highest proportion of students studying STEM subjects in the country. Meanwhile, the number of start-up businesses is growing at one of the fastest rates in the country – 45,498 at the end of this financial year, a rise of 20.8% on the previous year.
The emergence of innovative new sectors provides real prospects for graduates and skilled workers to stake their future in the region, which offers a beautiful place to live, affordable housing and quality of life, while the South East economy continues to overheat.
It feels as though the spirit of innovation is starting to return and perhaps with it the hope that the North East can finally look forward to turning the tide on the “drain” and can look forward to benefitting from a brain gain.