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Vince Cable Visits Oxford
Business Secretary Vince Cable paid a short visit to Oxford on June 14th and spent a couple of hours at a meeting in Somerville College organised by Cllr Jean Fooks, LibDem group leader on Oxford City Council, who is herself an old Somervillian, and hosted by the Principal, Dr Alice Prochaska.
Dr Cable told the audience that the current banking crisis was “something that we have never experienced in our lifetime in Britain”, and that financing British business was fundamental to economic recovery. He outlined some new initiatives from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to enhance business growth in the UK, such as the Green Investment Bank and the supply chain funding.
Dr Cable spoke about the Government’s determination to increase jobs in the private sector, emphasising the importance of reducing unemployment, particularly among the young. He mentioned the recent huge investment in motor manufacturing by General Motors and Nissan, and the just-announced release of £80bn to encourage banks to lend to small businesses. He also emphasised the importance of apprenticeships as an alternative to higher education for some young people.
Speaking about university finance, Dr Cable explained the coalition’s decision to raise tuition fees from September 2012 as unfortunately necessary in the present economic situation and commented that one of the long-term consequences of the policy would be to give students more choice and control over higher education. In answering a question from a student, he said it is really a graduate tax, which is only paid when earnings reach £21,000 and in some cases will not be paid at all.
Representatives from Oxford Innovation, led by their joint managing Director, Don McLaverty, spoke about their support of growing businesses, much helped by the recent launch of the £200m Growth Accelerator service funded by BIS. They also mentioned the difficulty experienced by local businesses in finding graduates with the right skills.
Peter Dobson from Begbroke Science Park spoke about the success of university spinoffs, while reminding us that even highly successful companies are still having difficulty in getting funds. He was delighted that the support for RCUK and the TSB was maintained at a reasonable level. Gareth Neighbour from Oxford Brookes University underlined their emphasis on educating graduates ready for employment.
Adam O’Boyle , Executive Director of Student Hubs, explained the work done by the Oxford Hub in helping students to set up social enterprises and find careers in the voluntary sector as well as co-ordinating student-community engagement and volunteering.
A lively discussion included questions about vocational versus academic higher education, tuition fees, EU funding, graduate employment and much more.
Cllr Jean Fooks commented ‘Everyone appreciated hearing from Dr Cable direct on the government’s plans and his own clearly very heavy workload in tackling the economy of the country. The chance to discuss the issues informally helped to make this a useful forum. On student applications for the coming year, it was good to hear that it appears that young people have not been put off by tuition fees, regardless of their financial position.’