Scotland the Blog: Mortar Boards and Multipliers

Walking through Glasgow last night, it seems Halloween has become an adult burlesque party here in Glasgow rather than a kids festival. At least as the pumpkins are lit up and our pivotal petrochemical plant is still smoking as I comfortingly notice from the train window.

Yet had the shutdown at our key petrochemical plant persisted that 1.3% growth would have been wiped out. Interestingly the workers in another of Scotland's key sectors are taking strike action. There are placards even Unite ones, but no smoke is failing to come out of a stack so we might pay it less attention. These strikers won't get many headlines but arguably their impact is much and more lasting.

Scotland's skilled future depends on having a vibrant further and higher education sector. Sometimes we talk about this in terms of human capital focusing on the lifetime earnings for students. But in essence a university is a massively efficient generator of economic growth. The higher education multiplier is massive.

Take Strathclyde, a top science and business university. If the university were to receive increased income of £100 million, that £100 million would stimulate Glasgow to the tune of £160 million. It would generate another £30 million to Strathclyde region. Glasgow's universities alone account for 0.7% of Scotland's GDP and about £1.2 bn. in income. This is a truly pivotal sector. That is why our Chairman Donald Gordon and I met with the University HR Forum for Scotland. Just yesterday Strathclyde came up with a  new smart food labelling system, which chemically detects whether food is on or off for the scoff.  The impact of both higher and further education is massive and that's what is ultimately going to help Scotland whatever its constitutional future, makes it living in the world.

FE is also a key part of the talent infrastructure.  I have already mentioned the Wood Commission but it's worth re-iterating that this hard headed appraisal of the need for vocational and academic skills to reach what might be better termed parity of appeal. Making vocational learning routes appeal to young people, employers and society. The issue of parity of esteem is for me a red herring. If studying vocational skills around stem allows young people to get a great grounding in maths and english who is to say that the route is going to be any less attractive than studying an "academic" subject? Universities and colleges are all about learning and building human talent they are a keystone to Scotland's skilled future.

Incidentally most of those burlesque Haloween ravers are students and they have already created an industry, some of them stay in Haloween mode all year and are known as Goths!

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