In our recent South West Skills Newsletter we reported changes at the Skills Funding Agency, fresh talks around pay in the Higher Education sector, and tackling the underrepresentation of women, both in work and academia. The headlines this week focus on UK Science, National Apprenticeships Week and developments at St. Luke’s Campus.

The latest figures released by HM Revenue & Customs recently (6 March) show that the value of exports from the South West increased significantly by 7.5 percent, to £13.67 billion, in the year to December 2013. This came as David Willetts announced to an audience of scientists, apprentices and schoolchildren at Jodrell Bank that Great Britain is the best place in the world to do science, with several new investments in UK science. Cutting-edge science projects will benefit from a £300 million boost to support growth and jobs in UK science as part the government’s long term economic plan. Hundreds of new technology jobs have been announced as the UK takes centre stage as official partner country at CeBIT 2014.

However, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says the government should make careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) more attractive, recommending cuts in tuition fees for some STEM subject courses and better training for existing workers. The CBI also argues that key economic sectors are facing a “skills crunch”, especially for technicians. The government says it is investing £385m in STEM university facilities and to support teaching. The Deputy Prime Minister hosted an event for female STEM apprentices in the run up to International Women’s Day.

National Apprenticeship Week was in full swing last week, during which over 1,000 events celebrated the impact apprenticeships have on young people, adults, businesses and the economy. Almost half (44 per cent) of businesses in the country plan to take on apprentices in the next 5 years. Over 20,000 new jobs were pledged, with Small and Medium sized Enterprises vowing to push up apprenticeship numbers, increasingly supporting apprenticeships.

Employer-led trailblazers are leading the way in developing the new world class apprenticeships, as Government recently published Future of apprenticeships in England: guidance for trailblazers and Apprenticeship funding reform in England: payment mechanisms and funding principles. Joyce Omope, a communications apprentice working in government, talks about her experiences and what her highlights have been so far as an Apprentice at work in the heart of government.

Locally, there was an Apprenticeship Showcase for Devon employers and young people to find out about opportunities to get paid to train with a wide variety of employers. Over 120 apprenticeship vacancies were available at Gloucestershire’s SkillsFest, the county’s biggest ever apprenticeship event. Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois has learned about the opportunities available to apprentices at Gloucester-based defence equipment company MBDA. Government has also announced that taxpayers will cease to fund around 5,000 low value adult vocational qualifications, such as self-tanning, balloon artistry and instructing pole fitness.

Teaching and educational professionals are the group of workers most likely to be putting in unpaid overtime and clocking up the most free hours a week, according to figures released last week by the Universities and Colleges Union.

Here at the University of Exeter, we are pleased the St Luke’s upgrade plans have been approved, which will boost employment for Devon, as the 150-year-old university campus is given a £10m facelift. Prof Steve Thornton, Dean of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that this refurbishment will soon be under way. It will help to accommodate our plans for growth and will provide a modern facility for medical research, and for teaching and learning across all colleges.”. The refurbishment contract was awarded to the Exeter-based Midas Group, which said it was good news for local employment and sub-contractors in the area.

I hope you find this edition useful.