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Stephen Caddick

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Let's Look to the East - End, That is - for Lessons on Economic Recovery

Posted: 28/01/2013 12:18

So the latest GDP figures show what we had all feared: that the Government's prescription to jolt the economy back to full health has failed and we are heading towards an unprecedented triple dip recession.

To my mind this just confirms that the fair economic winds of the 21st century, it seems, are blowing only one way: east. On a global scale, of course, we are seeing a gradual tilt towards the booming economies of China and India, yet there are lessons to be learnt in our own backyard, too - we only have to look at the dynamism and creativity of Tech City, in the East End of London, to see the future.

With an economy on life-support and no sign of recovery any time soon, we need to learn the lessons of the new ways of innovating which are emerging there - and central to this will be equipping graduates with the skills for a 21st century economy, not that of last century. We must engineer the raw materials for both recovery, and also sustained growth when that recovery comes.

Sitting on the Government's Tech City Advisory Panel, I've seen at first hand the tremendous efforts the Government has been putting in to supporting the development of a media and technology hub in the capital. Already we have seen initiatives which are vital to the health of the burgeoning tech community, like the entrepreneurs visa and tax credits for R&D. These, alongside the promised £50m for regeneration around Old Street, are a promising start. More needs to be done, though, lest our European rivals catch-up with our lead.

Our priority should be to take action to attract further investment from overseas to keep the area buoyant. The Government has done much to lower corporation taxes, and with rates at 21% by 2014 we are becoming competitive - but we need to do more to bring in some of the largest global corporate players. We need to communicate a clear taxation policy - one which makes the UK the most attractive place in the world to do business, to transact and yes, to pay tax.

Likewise, we need to look again at immigration policy. If we are open for business, let's not give confused messages about overseas recruitment - we are in a global competition for talent and our policies need to help us outcompete other countries. The entrepreneur's visa is terrific, but the confused messages about international students are immensely unhelpful and having a negative impact on the UK's bottom line.

Universities, of course, have a key role to play. We must ensure students are equipped with the skills to thrive in this new economy. First, we must offer more opportunities for formal study of business and entrepreneurship. UCL's Master's degree in Technology Entrepreneurship, for example, is one of our most popular programmes.

It is essential, though, that universities offer much, much more help to any student, regardless of their degree, the support to start their own business. In the last year alone, we provided 2500 places to students contemplating a start-up. Students studying anything from cognitive neuroscience to economics at UCL have founded tech start-ups. The drive for entrepreneurialism is not bounded by what subject people decide to study at eighteen. What they have in common is a determination to succeed and a university behind them which takes that determination seriously.

Students and graduates need two things when starting a business - they need confidence, and they need resources - whether that is funding, office space, or mentoring to draw on. The backing of their university can provide both: tailored business support, workshops and championing for the former; specific awards, loans and grant funding, as well as networking with business angels, to supply the latter.

When they leave university our graduates are entering the most difficult job market for years. They have to deal with an immensely challenging economic climate - one which is our legacy. We have a duty to equip them with the skills to find work and sustain growing businesses and to create the exciting new companies of the future. Anything less and we will be looking East wistfully ruing opportunities lost - and prosperity, and the lives of a generation, thrown away.

 
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