Suffolk's 'brain drain'

SUFFOLK is suffering from a brain drain of young adults, census figures have revealed.About 20,000 fewer young adults aged 20 to 29 were resident in the county in 2001 compared with 1991 - a figure equivalent to the population of a town the size of Sudbury.

SUFFOLK is suffering from a brain drain of young adults, census figures have revealed.

About 20,000 fewer young adults aged 20 to 29 were resident in the county in 2001 compared with 1991 - a figure equivalent to the population of a town the size of Sudbury.

Experts have put the loss of so many young people down to Suffolk having no university, to its notoriously low wages and to the lack of affordable homes.

In 1991 the census recorded students at their home addresses and by 2001 they were being recorded at their term-time addresses.

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According to figures compiled by Suffolk Connexionsin the three years leading up to the April 2001 census cut-off date 5,000 students in sixth form colleges had said they would be going on to higher education.

Many, but not all, will have gone to universities out of Suffolk and what is known is that most of those who leave do not return to their home county after graduation.

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Stewart Davies, CEO at BT Exact, said he was not surprised by the decline in the 20 to 29 age group population over the past decade.

He said: "Schools are churning out high calibre results from their sixth forms each year and where do they go if they want to go to university?

"The bottom line is that if you want to attract strong new businesses to an area like Suffolk they want to be able to access fairly high levels of education at a reasonable cost.

"At the moment the chances of people who have gone away to university elsewhere coming back are absolutely nil.

"What happens when you have a university in an area is that you start to develop a more cosmopolitan environment around the arts, music, restaurants.

"I've been harping on about this subject for a very long time now. If this area is to continue developing and have higher value jobs we can't think in terms of one or two years. You have to think in terms of ten to 15 years.

"We have a particularly good quality of life and we have to raise the education profile. You import students if you have something specific and unique to offer them."

With the Government intending to allow universities to charge students tuition fees and the absence of maintenance grants for living expenses, Mr Davies said that tertiary education will become so prohibitively high that students will end up having to stay in their home areas.

He warned: "If Ipswich doesn't have a university half a generation will become completely disenfranchised from tertiary education."

Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk Acre (Action with Communities in Rural England) said the county could become permanently economically and socially impoverished.

He said: "My own view is that having a university is a key factor. We need to do something about it and that's where the big strategic players should be putting all their energies.

"A lot of young people at that stage of their lives will want to go out and experience something new but without a university you are not attracting a similar number of young people coming back in to replace them."

The consequence of that, according to Sue Arnold, Ipswich Borough Council's head of strategic planning and regeneration, was that employers were not anxious to bring high skilled jobs to the area.

She said it was crucial for the county to have a university if it did not want to remain a low wage, low skill economy.

She said: "Do we have the movers and shakers here or the people who answer the phone?

"What outsiders wonder about is why no university when everyone else has one and there's never been a better moment to really push for one."

Talks are ongoing between the universities of Essex and East Anglia with Suffolk College, and it is hoped that a campus on the Ipswich waterfront, could be ready in two years.

Ms Arnold said that according to research there was currently a gap in the county between wage rates and house prices adding to the urgency of the argument for a university to be established.

Paul Wood, economic analyst at the Suffolk Development Agency, said Suffolk and Norfolk were already well behind other counties in the region right across the pay spectrum of all industries and occupations.

In Suffolk, the average hourly gross rate was £9.56, compared to £12.46 in Hertfordshire, £10.90 within the East of England, and £11.20 nationally.

He said young people with any ambition would go to university, but added that Suffolk does not have one.

He said: "The main problem with Suffolk is that it has a lot of people in traditional industries like agriculture, food processing and manufacturing, all diminishing industries that are not going to be around in ten to 20 years' time."

Richard Ward, director of the Suffolk Preservation Society, added: "I think it's a concern, when people come out of full-time education given that they probably enter the job market at a fairly low level, that the affordable housing issue in Suffolk is such that they can't take their first job here."

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