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Bid for £46m institute to upskill workforce and help East Anglia prepare for Brexit

PUBLISHED: 08:13 07 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:14 07 November 2017

Offshore wind farms are a key industry in need of workers with the right qualifications. Picture: Paul Langrock

Offshore wind farms are a key industry in need of workers with the right qualifications. Picture: Paul Langrock

Paul Langrock

A £46m bid has been launched to create a “virtual learning city” to prepare the East’s economy for future challenges including Brexit.

A growing chamber at Leaf Expression Systems at Norwich Research Park. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY A growing chamber at Leaf Expression Systems at Norwich Research Park. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Colleges, universities and some of the region’s top firms have joined forces to bid for government cash to set up the Eastern Institute of Technology (IoT).

They say it would connect up educational establishments and businesses to create a “skills pipeline” supplying future employees with the right qualifications for key industries like offshore energy, life sciences and advanced engineering.

Half of the money needed for the project would be raised by learning and enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and businesses. The remaining £23m would come from central government, which has set aside £170m to establish similar centres around the regions.

A bid to the Department for Education says: “The East’s economy, with an annual gross value of £146bn, is one of the fastest growing in the UK and is attracting sizeable inward investment and unprecedented levels of planned infrastructure development.

West Suffolk College, Bury St Edmunds has appointed Nikos Savvas as its new principal. West Suffolk College, Bury St Edmunds has appointed Nikos Savvas as its new principal.

“However, despite an employment rate for 16-64 year olds 4pc higher than the UK average, there is a lack of higher level technical skilled workers in the region.

“The region’s working-age population is significantly below

average for higher-level skills. Only 31.3pc have NVQ4 and above and only 50.2pc have NVQ3 and above, which threatens to limit potential growth.

“In anticipation of Brexit, we must secure our skills pipeline/workforce and maximise ROI [return on investment]. With an IoT the East can fulfil its growth potential, afforded by the unparalleled infrastructure developments in the East, and

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who is backing the IoT bid. Picture: Ian Burt South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who is backing the IoT bid. Picture: Ian Burt

can be developed quickly/effectively to drive forward an eastern powerhouse and increase productivity.”

Briefing papers say the institute would “build on existing infrastructure” by creating a network of specialist centres with “state of the art equipment and facilities”.

They would aim to deliver more STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) qualifications at Level 4 and above, in response to demands from key industries.

It would also create an employer forum and industry-led curriculum to identify skills gaps and “provide clear pathways to high-skill, high-wage employment”.

Equipmake at Hethel Engineering Centre. Electronics engineer Javier Vara testing one of the motors. Picture : Antony Kelly Equipmake at Hethel Engineering Centre. Electronics engineer Javier Vara testing one of the motors. Picture : Antony Kelly

The bid is being led by Bury-based West Suffolk College. Its principal Dr Nikos Savvas said: “We’ve got a number of partners together looking at the region, the needs of the region in general and the country.

“We’ve been preparing for this for two years. We’ve looked at what’s happening in Germany and in Holland. We’ve studied what’s happening in the US, Australia and Ireland.

“We will be competing with Manchester, with London, with Birmingham. I don’t want the east to be left behind.”

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss is urging her colleagues across the region to show all-party backing for the proposals. She is writing to education secretary Justine Greening in support of the bid.

“‘This is a fantastic proposal, offering a unique collaborative approach. Working with both business and education, the Eastern Institute of Technology will establish the region as a leader in advanced manufacturing, technology, energy and engineering.

“We have RAF Marham, soon to be the home of the most advance fighter jet in the world, tech giant Arm Ltd in Cambridge with 5,000 staff plus plans to double the workforce in the coming years.

“Mars located in Kings Lynn has invested significantly in its manufacturing site and the Norwich Research Park boasts world leading science credentials. The manufacturing and engineering sector continues to grow and the offshore energy farms are thriving.

“However in order to fully support these industries and to continue to develop the ambitions and aspirations of the eastern region, there needs to be a skilled work force with the relevant training available and that is why I support this proposal.”

A spokesman for the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said “New Anglia LEP supports the idea of an Institute of Technology for the East. Brexit is one aspect of the economic and political context within which we aim to ensure a better skills offer for the next generation of workers in Suffolk and Norfolk.”

Snapshot of our region

The bid provides a snapshot of the region’s key industries as it makes the case for investment in the IoT.

It says spanning approximately 3,500sq miles, with a population of more than 5.8m and a unique mix of urban, rural and coastal communities close to but very distinct from London, the East is:

Home to the world’s largest market for offshore wind (worth about £994m a year) and to our all-energy coast (directly employing around 8,000 people) with a diverse and innovative mix of wind, solar, oil,

gas and nuclear energy infrastructure projects.

Traversed by the A11 corridor via Bury St Edmunds, from Norwich to Cambridge which is a world class destination for advanced manufacturing and engineering with more than 100 automotive

engineering and advanced manufacturing companies in growing clusters, and Hethel Innovation Centre.

At the global forefront of research in life sciences, with centres such as the Norwich Research Park, John Innes Centre, the Babraham Institute, and AstraZeneca.

A leader in the fast growing Agri-tech sector which is already worth £2.2bn a year, 10pc of New Anglia’s annual gross value.

Pioneering technical innovations in rigital research and development and home to BT’s global engineering headquarters.

Home to the UK’s busiest container port, Felixstowe, which has the potential to rapidly grow, and attract sizeable future global inward investment from its advanced manufacturing, engineering, energy and digital sectors.

Bid partners:

Partners in the Eastern IoT bid include:

College of West Anglia

East Coast College

Suffolk New College

University of Cambridge

University of Suffolk

University of East Anglia

Anglia Ruskin University

Abbeygate Sixth Form

Suffolk New College on the Coast Sixth Form

Lowestoft Sixth Form College

(Suffolk) One Sixth Form College

Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology (formerly UTC Cambridge)

Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) catapult centre

National College for Nuclear

STEM Learning UK

Odgen Trust

Hethel Innovation Centre (Norwich)

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