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The BBC's Kim Catcheside
"Improving the education of teenagers could be worth tens of billions of pounds"
 real 56k

Sunday, 29 July, 2001, 23:35 GMT 00:35 UK
Drive to tackle skills shortage
computer technician
UK skills lag behind those of competitors
There is to be a new effort to address England's skills shortage.

The Learning and Skills Council, now responsible for post-16 education, is setting a target of having young people's skills matching the best in the world by the end of the decade.

"The blunt truth is that we are far too complacent about our educational performance," said the council's chief executive, John Harwood.

"It is a scandal that we have a smaller proportion of 17-year-olds learning than every other OECD country other than Greece, Turkey or Mexico."

"The challenge is huge - we need to encourage more young people to stay in learning, increase demand for learning among adults and improve the skills of our workforce," said the education secretary, Estelle Morris.

Figures published earlier this year by the OECD - the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - showed how the UK had slipped down the league over recent decades.

Overtaken

Among the 55 to 64 age group, 53% of people had had at least an upper secondary education. The international average, among the 29 countries surveyed, was 45%.

Among 45 to 54 year olds the UK had 60% but the average had improved much faster, to 58%.

In the 35 to 44 bracket the UK was on 63%, overtaken by the average of 66%.

And among the youngest, 25 to 34 year olds, the UK was on 66% but the average had jumped again to 72%.

"We have one of the least well-educated workforces in western Europe with around seven million people having real problems with literacy and numeracy," Mr Harwood said.

Economic benefit

"As the nature of advanced economies changes we have to recognise that the future position of the UK's economy depends on increasing the levels of technical skills and educational attainments in our working population. If we don't the future is bleak.

"The Learning and Skills Council has been set up tackle this problem. Our ultimate goal is that by 2010, young people and adults in England will have knowledge and productive skills matching then best in the world."

Research for the Skills Taskforce Report last year said that closing the UK's productivity gap with Germany would generate 50bn more output over the next 10 years.

"Even small changes in productivity can have a significant impact on output. If we could improve the supply and use of skills in the UK such that they increased productivity growth by only 0.1% per year the economy could generate somewhere in the region of 10bn more output over the next 10 years."

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See also:

13 Jun 01 | Education
UK education gap 'frightening'
26 Jul 01 | Education
Awards for colleges' skills efforts
12 Jul 00 | Education
Money does not raise results
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