Upcoming event

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On the 25th of April, we will be hosting the event ‘Behaviour change and the transition to net zero,’ to discuss the wholesale behavioural change by individuals and communities needed to support the transition to net zero. We will be joined by the Chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, the Chair of Community Health and Policy at Imperial College London, Professor Frank Kelly, Senior Adviser at the Behavioural Insights Team, Andrew Schein, and Chief Executive at the Plant-Based Food Alliance UK, Councillor Marisa Heath.

In person events are a great way to engage with experts, industry professionals and parliamentarians on the subject. If you are interested in attending this event, head to our website here to sign up.

We are hiring!

We are looking for an experienced and driven individual to join our leadership team as Chief Operating Officer. This is a senior hire, reporting directly to the Director and the Trustees. The role is responsible for executing Onward’s long-term financial strategy, managing high-level fundraising and corporate partnerships, and overseeing events, Onward’s Business Club and the Party Conference programme. 


Head to our website here for more details on the job description, eligibility requirements, and how to apply.

In the media this week:

The Financial Times featured our research report Course Correction, in an article by Sarah O’Connor, citing findings on the decline in entry-level apprenticeship numbers

Director Will Tanner was quoted in an article in The Times, The Daily Mail, and The Daily Express, in response to Tony Blair’s statement encouraging more young people to go on to higher education. He authored a letter for The Financial Times, setting out how apprenticeships serve as a great alternative to low-value degrees. He was also quoted in an article in The Telegraph, on the economic argument for civil service relocation out of London

Deputy Director Adam Hawksbee wrote the foreword for ‘Levelling Up: Bridging the Gap Between Policy and Progress,’ a new report by Make UK, and was quoted in The Manufacturer and politics.co.uk

The Investor’s Chronicle quoted Senior Researcher Alex Luke on annual savings for households from offshore wind energy

Onward Note

Tony Blair is right. Britain has a skills problem which is holding back its productivity. Too many people have low basic skill levels and we lack many of the skills that will be needed in the jobs of the future. But increasing the share of school leavers going to university to 7 in 10, as Blair is calling for, is not the answer to these challenges.

Francesca-Fraser-Onward

This should be evident by now. Since Blair’s Government introduced the 50% university target in 1999 the higher education sector has ballooned. More school leavers now go to university than don’t and the Student Loan book stands at £161 billion. This is roughly equivalent to the NHS England’s planned resource budget for 2024/25 – £162.6 billion.

But quantity doesn’t trump quality. A tenth of current undergraduates will earn less than £25,000 a decade after they graduate and one in five graduates are no better off after five years than if they had chosen to do an apprenticeship instead. Young people have been sold a false promise that attending university is the only route to ‘get on’ and have been saddled with huge debts as a result. Such debts are justifiable when students receive quality teaching and lead to a high earning graduate job but too often this is not the case. 

And low returns for students are accompanied by low returns to the wider economy. The Times reports the Tony Blair Institute will declare a 70% target is needed to provide the skills for the future. Available data on skills shortages suggests otherwise.

One in three graduates are working in roles which do not require a degree and a total of two in five UK workers are employed in occupations for which they do not have the right qualifications. Government’s efforts should be going to building the skills in the occupations we need, not expanding university attendance in the hope this will align with the future economy. 

And the subjects we have the greatest shortages in are unlikely to be filled through academia. According to the OECD, our most acute skills shortages are in Building and Construction, Design, Mechanics, Medicine and Dentistry, and Engineering, Mechanics and Technology. Moreover, the former Industrial Strategy Council estimated that two in three workers will lack the necessary digital skills by 2030. While universities can cater to some of these challenges, they are unlikely to lead the future skills revolution on their own. These shortages are much more likely to benefit from an expansion of further education, like apprenticeships, which provide people with the opportunity to earn while they learn at a fraction of the cost to the taxpayer. 

Ultimately if ministers are committed to building a workforce fit for the future, they need to be employing new approaches to the UK skills challenge. To conclude this should mean going further on the 50% university target denies a decade of evidence to the contrary.

Francesca Fraser, Senior Researcher for the Levelling Up research programme

Policy Bites

The second round of allocations worth £2.6 billion of the Shared Prosperity Fund was announced last Wednesday, driving forward the missions in the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper. England is set to receive £1.58 billion, £212 million for Scotland, £585 million for Wales, and £127 million for Northern Ireland. Link

The Ministry of Justice has announced its support for an additional 11 projects across England as a part of the Prison Leavers project. The projects will have access to a funding pot worth £6.7 million for specialist interventions to target those most likely to reoffend, addressing issues such as addiction, social isolation, housing problems, and unemployment. Link

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has announced £4.6 million in government investment to increase volunteering opportunities in the arts, culture, sport, and civil society sectors for young people and those that face significant barriers to volunteering. Link

Quick Links

1600x 1 - Onward Newsletter, 20/04/22
Britain’s sclerotic state | The Spectator
Wealth breeds complacency. The UK economy is being hampered at every turn.
1600x 1 - Onward Newsletter, 20/04/22
Britain’s sclerotic state | The Spectator
Wealth breeds complacency. The UK economy is being hampered at every turn.
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A gulf divides the Tory leadership from the country | Financial Times
News, analysis and comment from the Financial Times, the worldʼs leading global business publication
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A gulf divides the Tory leadership from the country | Financial Times
News, analysis and comment from the Financial Times, the worldʼs leading global business publication
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The Times & The Sunday Times
News and opinion from The Times & The Sunday Times
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The Times & The Sunday Times
News and opinion from The Times & The Sunday Times