‘City needs university’

Sam Wright , who has replaced Sue Griffiths as Wakefield College principal
Sam Wright , who has replaced Sue Griffiths as Wakefield College principal

WAKEFIELD needs a university to drag up its skill levels - which are the lowest in the UK - according to the leader of the council.

Just 18 per cent of the city’s population have high level qualifications, a lower score than any other city.

And the most recent market statistics say nearly 10 per cent of its population are unemployed.

But on the back of a year where Wakefield reinvented itself as major city through developments such as Trinity Walk, Merchant Gate and the Hepworth gallery, council bosses said it was time to lobby for a university.

Speaking at a meeting of Wakefield Council’s cabinet on Tuesday, Coun Peter Box said: “It is time to make a strong, strong case for a university in Wakefield. We’ve got excellent GCSE results and yet we are bottom of the league for high skills. There is a lot of work to be done.

“You speak to children in primary schools and they have got aspirations – and yet when you look at these children in five or six years they have gone. There is something missing.”

Bretton Hall, a University of Leeds campus, closed in 2007, and higher education in the city suffered a further blow in 2009 when Wakefield College lost out on funding for its plan for a £75m campus on Margaret Street.

But this week the college backed the council’s call for a university. It is currently undergoing a smaller £25m redevelopment at Margaret Street.

Principal Sam Wright said: “We are committed to increasing the level of higher education participation across the district. The new multi-phased redevelopment of our city campus will house dedicated higher education learning spaces.

“We will continue consultation with partners to work towards increasing higher education provision.”

Coun Box said it was important for businesses to engage with schoolchildren and take on local apprentices.

He said: “We need to make sure that companies get into schools far earlier.”

But Steven Leigh, Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s head of policy and representation, said it was difficult for businesses to do that at the moment.

He said: “With another recession looming businesses are struggling with what they’ve got.

“The first thing they have to do when they take on an apprentice is pay 11 per cent of their wage in national insurance tax.”

Wakefield also scored badly for annual earnings and job-seekers allowance claimants in this year’s Centre for Cities report.

But Mary Creagh MP said applications to universities from Wakefield pupils rose this year, despite the fact tuition fees had trebled.

She said: “We have some excellent schools whose staff are driving up standards. Many of our young people have the ability to go to Oxbridge, but don’t think it is for them and lack local role models.”