Pfizer’s exit from Kent – HE plays a critical role in the region

Today’s news that Pfizer is closing its European HQ for research and development which was based in Kent will be catastrophic news for the local community. The centre is in a particularly economically deprived part of Kent which already has high levels of unemployment due to the historic decline of the docks, agriculture and the tourist pound. Until Canterbury Christchurch opened its outpost in Broadstairs a few years ago, the area was one of the biggest HE cold-spots in the UK. Participation rates remain low.

Vince Cable this afternoon has said that he is:

“establishing a local taskforce under the leadership of Kent County Council to work with Pfizer and the new Local Enterprise Partnership. David Willetts, Andrew Lansley and I will work closely with the Taskforce in the coming months to ensure every possible effort is made to mitigate the impact of Pfizer’s decision on local jobs and the local communities.”

It is hard to imagine remedies that do not involve massive investment to halt the decline. It’s also hard to imagine this Government choosing to invest against the backdrop of cuts. With large employers like Pfizer increasingly scaling back their UK operations, the future looks bleak for the communities that depend on them. The Government’s idea that the private sector will fill the gaps of employment during this time is looking increasingly less credible. As are ideas such as the ‘Big Society’ which are certainly not remedies for the harsh economic realities faced by many.

In the age of plenty, higher education institutions across the UK spread their provision ensuring that educationally deprived areas had some access to HE – Canterbury Christchurch in Broadstairs was one of hundreds of examples. There are countless examples of partnerships between HE and FE which have played a similarly important role. With the decline of RDAs and the direct cuts to HE, it will be harder and harder for HEIs to continue such activity. Indeed there is a very real danger that faced with a squeeze in student numbers, capital investment and countless other realities, some institution’s may even conclude that existing provision may need to be scaled back; retreating to the centre.

But as we’ve seen today in Kent, they’ve never been needed more.

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