While the number of degree holders has risen everywhere in recent years, some cities are pulling away
It’s hard to stress enough how crucial skills are for the development of a successful economy. They are a key determinant of people’s and places’ economic performance, and in recent years the places with the largest presence of high-skilled workers have become more and more successful.
Yet, the picture Cities Outlook 2019 presents us with is an alarming one: the distribution of high-skilled workers across the country is very uneven, with stark divides among places up and down the country.
Reflecting the spread of population as a whole, the majority of people who hold a degree or other high-level qualifications live mainly in cities (58 per cent). But as the map above shows, these people aren’t spread evenly across cities: of all the high-skilled people living in cities, 49 per cent of them live in just 11 places.
London dominates this list. Its 3.5 million degree holders account for 22 per cent of all the high-skilled across the country.
But it is not just about London: a handful of other cities also have a disproportionate number of degree holders. Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Exeter, Brighton, Reading, Aldershot, Bristol and York have a much bigger presence of high-skilled workers than any other city. As the charts below show, the 10 of them together are of a similar size in terms of working age population to the bottom 10 cities for share of high-skilled workers (i.e. Mansfield, Doncaster, Ipswich, Stoke, Peterborough, Southend, Bradford, Hull, Wigan and Gloucester), but have twice as many high-skilled people and less than half low-skilled people.
Source: Centre for Cities (2019), ‘Cities Outlook 2019’, London: Centre for Cities
And over the last 10 years, these top 10 cities have increased their high-skilled population at a much faster rate than the rest of the UK. In urban Britain, there are 54 per cent more high-skilled people today than in 2007, but in these cities, the growth has been on 59 per cent. And in London it was 62 per cent. In contrast, in the bottom 10 cities mentioned above, the growth has been much lower at just 38 per cent.
As a result, the gap in residents that hold a degree between the top 10 and bottom 10 cities is widening – a similar pattern to that observed by Enrico Moretti in the US, where the so-called superstar cities have been a magnet for high-skilled residents.
This, in turn, alters the attractiveness of such cities to high-skilled businesses to invest, which in turn governs the success of their economies. In the UK, the top 10 cities are 30 per cent as productive as the bottom ten. Meanwhile, in America, it comes as no surprise that despite the many applications, Amazon will split its second HQ precisely between two superstar cities: Washington and New York.
That is why, if it wasn’t clear enough already, it is so important for every strategy aimed at generating local growth and prosperity, or any national plan to improve the economic performance of certain parts of the country, to have education and skills at its heart.
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And as the evidence in the article also indicates, it is about selective migration. As argued here: https://www.bigissuenorth.com/comment/2018/12/dont-just-bring-william-back-home/