To misquote the often underestimated Homer Simpson: “Students – the cause of, and solution to, many of Bath’s problems.” The American cartoon character was actually talking about “Beer and life” not “Students and Bath”, but bear with me, the analogy deserves a little study.
There is no question that the ever increasing number of students in a city the size of Bath create a range of challenges. Where should they all live, how best should they move around and how can the more lively of their youthful excesses be controlled?
But all those issues are surmountable. What concerns me much more is how to we harness their abilities to help grow the long term sustainable economy of Bath instead of the vast majority of them taking the expertise they have developed here to other cities and countries.
It is some years now since members of the Chamber and Initiative first grappled with the subject of student retention. We worked on the assumption a proportion of the students of our Universities chose Bath because they liked the idea of learning in the environment on offer. It seemed reasonable to conclude that there would be a fair number who would prefer to stay to live here after their studies.
However, there was a but, in fact there were two buts. First the cost of housing and second the perceived lack of graduate jobs.
I came up with the bright idea that the Council might help a bit with the first by providing new graduates with a Council tax holiday for the first 12 months after they graduated, and there was some interest in that. However, I suspect that might not get much traction in the current local authority financial predicament.
Perhaps we can get further with the second issue and do more to identify roles that could be taken on by graduates which give them the scope to develop within local companies. That might involve businesses viewing their recruitment processes differently and it would also need the graduates to re-think conventional career paths.
I have been talking again to the Universities, the Council and the Combined Authority to see whether there is a way of making a difference by working together and improving communication between local business and graduates. I know there are already excellent links with many Bath companies, but I have a feeling we could do even better. It’s worth a try and there’s a great prize if we can pull it off.