'Limited' education opportunities would prompt teens to leave Preston, Chorley and South Ribble

Politicians and professors in Central Lancashire have been left scratching their heads after the results of a survey of young people in the region showed that the main reason that they would consider leaving the area is a perceived lack of access to further and higher education.

By Paul Faulkner
Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 9:41 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 9:15 pm

The surprise finding emerged from a public consultation into a new local plan for the area.

Residents were asked dozens of questions, largely focussing on the locations they thought might be suitable for future housing development.

However, the survey also sought their opinion on a range of quality-of-life issues - and included a section targeted at those aged between 11 and 21, which was largely answered by secondary school pupils.

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Clockwise from top left - the modern face of UCLan and one of its more traditional buildings in the form of the Harris; Runshaw College; Myerscough College

A recent meeting of Central Lancashire’s strategic planning joint advisory committee heard that the overriding factor influencing any move away from the area amongst those in that age bracket was that “many do not feel there are the opportunities for them” locally.

A full breakdown of the data will not be published until the new year, but the Post understands that the nuances of the young people’s responses suggest that their answers may have been driven as much by a desire for independence as the availability of courses on their doorstep.

However, councillors were nevertheless puzzled that the county’s university and college offering appeared to have been overlooked.

Committee member and Chorley councillor Alistair Morwood said the region’s further and higher education institutions should be warned that “there are a large chunk of people who don’t seem to know you exist”.

“I am surprised, [because] we have got Runshaw - one of the top colleges in this part of the world - and vocational colleges like Myerscough,” he added.

Michael Green, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for economic development, environment and planning, was equally perplexed about why Lancashire’s “excellent” universities - including the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) at the heart of the sub-region - did not appear to have been a consideration for many of those responding to the survey.

“We are well provided for in terms of universities and have the highest number of STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] graduates anywhere in the country,” said County Cllr Green, who also urged all local authorities to “work more effectively” with universities and colleges to address the issue revealed by the consultation.

Out of the near-600 respondents to the youth survey, almost 70 percent were from Preston - home to UCLan’s main base.

The university is nearing the final stages of its £200m masterplan development which has seen the Adelphi area of the campus transformed - and includes a new student centre.

UCLan told the Post that more than half of its UK students emanate from Lancashire - with 24 percent coming from Preston itself.

A spokesperson added: “Surveys of this nature reflect an aspiration for an independent life, but the reality is that as young people get closer to making big decisions about university destinations, other factors such as quality of life, cost of living and career prospects become more important.

"This is borne out in our own research which shows that more North West-based students than ever before are choosing to stay at home where there is a wealth of university talent available.

"Around 84 percent of our students live in the region. We also work with 25 partner institutions, predominantly based in the North West, who have around 4,200 students studying a range of UCLan courses.

“These figures reflect the university’s long and proud history of reaching out to all areas of the community, enabling people of all ages and backgrounds to reach their potential.

"Just last week, we received a national award in recognition of our public engagement through events such as our award-winning Lancashire Science Festival, which attracts thousands of visitors every year with the key aim of inspiring the next generation of local scientists.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Runshaw College said that the Leyland-based institution was "very popular and oversubscribed each year with students from Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester".

He added: "We’ve been [rated] Ofsted Outstanding for over 25 years, offering exceptional provision in a very wide range of disciplines, which helps us be the college of choice for all students aged 16+. Our open events have also been online during the pandemic, which has allowed even greater access to anyone who wants to find out more about studying at the college."

Central Lancashire local plan co-ordinator Carolyn Williams told committee members that the wording of future consultations may need to be revised in order to get a better understanding of what lies behind the responses on further and higher education - and to establish whether young people in the area were simply being attracted to “big cities”.

“It perhaps gives us an idea of how we can phrase our questions a bit better and ask [young people] specifically what they need,” said Ms. Williams, suggesting that individual institutions could be name-checked to see if prospective students were aware of them and had considered studying there.

The survey also revealed that 71 percent of respondents were interested in exploring apprenticeships and that there was "good awareness" of them.

Other priorities for young people across Central Lancashire included cleaner neighbourhoods, safe environments and the availability of a good range of indoor and outdoor activities.