Press Office

Levelling Up reaction

Levelling Up White Paper: comment and analysis

Published on: 3 February 2022

Responding to the Government's landmark Levelling Up White Paper, our experts give their views.

Universities UK’s Economic and Social Recovery Task Force, chaired by Professor Chris Day, Vice-Chancellor and President at Newcastle University, and including members from across a diversity of the sector, will play a central role in developing the Higher Education response to the Levelling Up White Paper, including the proposed metrics.

The Task Force will be engaging with members across all four nations of the UK to ensure that the value and role of universities to levelling up is clearly identified and evidenced in our response and that universities can be positively engaged in the many initiatives announced in the White Paper.

An image of the Houses of Parliament
UK Parliament

Rebalancing the UK economy

Professor Jane Robinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Engagaement and Place.

We know that inequality across the UK economically and socially have been increasing and our research shows that this has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. The Levelling Up White Paper sets out how Government is seeking to rebalance the UK economy. As a University, the work we do with our partners to link our research and education with societal benefit can make a huge contribution to the Levelling Up agenda.

From supporting research and innovation through our work in energy, ageing, data, cities and culture to addressing the skills needs of the future economy to major regeneration schemes, like the Campus For Ageing and Vitality, we can play an important role in supporting the national missions set out in the White Paper, with the right partnership and investment from Government.

We work very closely with our regional partners, including the North of Tyne Combined Authority, and it is very exciting to see the opportunities for further devolution and local decision-making, which will enable us to be more responsive in meeting needs and maximising opportunities. This will both benefit local communities and enable us to share learning across the globe.

Centrally-orchestrated agenda

Professor Andy PikeSir Henry Daysh Chair of Regional Development Studies in the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies.

The Government seeks further decentralisation of powers but, crucially, this requires a matching level of resources rather than continuing to squeeze local government.

It seems like there is push for a centrally-orchestrated agenda for devolving limited budgets and difficult decisions about policy and public services to local decision makers.

For further analysis from Professor Pike about the Levelling Up White Paper, click here

‘Levelling Up’ and Education – what role for HE?

Professor Alison Shaw, Professor of Practice for Inclusive Education 

Any commitment from Government, such as that we see in the White Paper, to ‘spread opportunity more equally across the UK’ is to be welcomed. It would easily be seen as churlish to begin with any other response than this.

The wide-reaching policy and delivery framework it proposes has rightly been given positive recognition. Notwithstanding some of the more flowery imagery we read in the expression of Government commitment to the equity agenda (This contemporary Medici model, our twenty-first century recipe for a new Industrial Revolution’….. ‘rivalrous emulation between local leaders and entrepreneurs’), a reforming and delivery-orientated approach is, in truth, what is needed.

Stark and justifiable concern must still prevail, though, that the origins and complexity of the UK’s geographical, as well as social, economic and cultural injustices, will not be as amenable to easy resolution as this document suggests. This is a concern which the paucity of proposed funding serves only to confirm; it is simply not sufficient to the challenge, not to mention the loss of regionally-focussed European funding. Few of us can have escaped the comparisons which have made between the levelling up task faced by Germany following reunification and that currently facing us in the UK: the scale of funding required is very far indeed from what appears currently to be envisaged here at home1.

And so to the role of education – surely the fundamental building block of a fair, skilled and capable community? Arguably all the ‘missions’ in the proposed policy framework depend over time on our having a well and equitably educated population – something which we cannot currently lay claim to. Inclusive Education at all levels is the foundation of an equitable society.

In the section of the White Paper on Spreading opportunities and improving public services, education is addressed in a relatively limited way. It is a stated mission to raise the basic numeracy, reading and writing levels of the majority of our 11 year olds2; there are to be 55 new Education Investment Areas (although the level of investment remains to be clarified), which will include existing Opportunity Areas; new 16 to 19 free schools; and the increased absorption of ‘low performing schools’ into multi-academy trusts. There is also to be a UK National Academy - undoubtedly built upon the successful model of the Oak National Academy, a remarkable and positive achievement occasioned by the onset of the pandemic. There is little of great moment in these announcements but there are omissions. Indeed ,the simple assertion that improving underperforming schools is either easy or the answer to the problem is in itself a gross over-simplification.

In regions such as ours, high proportions of children growing up in poverty3 have a crushing impact on their school performance. The scale of inequity in some of our communities can only be, for many who live in areas remote from them, impossible to imagine. We know that socio-economic status has a greater impact on literacy than other factors and that this is the case across the ‘developed’ world4. The emphasis in this White Paper on supporting education and valuing teachers is of course welcome, but it really needs to be accompanied by radical measures to reduce poverty, inequity and tax injustice. Real reform would also increase local autonomy over educational priorities and propose a reduction in the tyranny of metrics and centrally-determined, qualification-led curricula.

There is little mention of Universities per se in this White Paper – although they touch almost every aspect of the vast ‘levelling up’ agenda. Our Higher Education Institutions are already essential to and committed to the task: already informing, supporting and often helping to deliver the promised ‘strong innovation and a climate conducive to private sector investment, better skills, improved transport systems, greater access to culture, stronger pride in place, deeper trust, greater safety and more resilient institutions’.

It should be remembered that our universities already work in partnership with local agencies, civil society and business as well as the great public sector anchors; we are already collaborating with serious intent on this levelling up work. The higher education sector brings untold capacity - but the need is such that prioritising and structuring this work is obviously far from easy5. At Newcastle we can be proud of our partnerships as a Civic University; and of our leadership of local and national collaborations to support raising attainment in schools and colleges, to embed greater equity in our most needy communities and to excite and inspire our students, past present and future.

The raft of announcements and initiatives in this Government’s ‘radical new regeneration programme’ read both as a reforming agenda with considerable reach - which cannot be faulted - but also as a reminder of the scale and complexity of the issues to be tackled. We can feel optimistic that at least a framework and a short-term policy outline has been provided so that discussions and planning can begin – or rather, at local level, continue; for there is much to do.


2. ‘By 2030, our aim is that 90% of all primary school children in England will achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, with the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas improving by a third (Mission Five)’


4. OECD (2021), Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris


Building on success

Peter Noble, Chief Operating Officer at Newcastle Health Innovation Partners

Newcastle Health Innovation Partners (NHIP) brings together leading clinicians and academics to improve the health of the region. Through new ways of working across Partners, we have been successful in attracting new funding to improve our research, education and innovation. 

The levelling up agenda highlighted by the Government's White Paper will help our Partners build on such success, attracting investment to improve the quality of life of our citizens. Such examples include:

  • Working with local citizens by listening to the concerns of seldom heard groups and to inform the future delivery of health and social care services and new areas of research
  • Working with Partners to attract industry and new investment, to create employment and new skill opportunities for the local population
  • Building on our academic and clinical excellence, we will be targeting the levelling-up growth of research and development funding in the North, which helps activities that brings our population to levels of health enjoyed by the rest of the UK. 

As Newcastle is nationally recognised as only one of two Centres in the North of England, it provide confidence to government and our population that new funding from levelling up will be spent wisely and effectively to make a difference to the regions health and wellbeing. 

Levelling Up and Skills – A longer-term ambition without an implementation plan?

Professor René Koglbauer, Dean of Lifelong Learning and Professional Practice

The national policy environment in relation to levelling up and skills has led to revitalising the lifelong learning, re-/upskilling agendas over the last couple of years. The Levelling Up White Paper builds on the FE Skills White Paper (DfE, 2021) and the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill that is currently going through Parliament.

As a framework document, the Levelling Up White Paper sets out the strategic direction for the next eight years and focuses in on the more immediate actions rather than a comprehensive implementation plan. While this may be widely criticised, it could also be seen as an opportunity for us to influence and shape the medium- to longer-term implementation plan.

Newcastle University has embraced aspects of this policy agenda, for instance by playing an active role as the research partner in the North East Institute of Technology or as one of the 22 institutions developing trial short courses to pilot the Lifelong Loan Entitlement. We have formed regional and national strategic partnerships with other education providers (HE/FE) and industry in order to collaboratively develop a coherent skills provision from Level 2 through to Level 7 through apprenticeships, short courses and a flexible, modular provision by initially focusing on disciplines of demand. It is therefore essential that all education providers are playing a pivotal role in designing the Local Skills Improvement Plans alongside all stakeholders.

The ambition of an additional 200,000 people per year completing high quality skills training is to be welcomed. However, it will only really transform people’s lives and positively impact on the UK’s economy longer term, if all of them are a) able to apply the learned knowledge, skills and behaviours during their training in the workplace through traineeships and work-placements and b) are able to gain employment as a result of it. There is a clear absence of investment into a proper Career, Advice and Guidance infrastructure not just for school leavers but also those out of employment or consider reskilling. The proposed UK National Academy, as part of its digital education service role,could becomealsoavirtual home for Career, Advice and Guidance moving forward.

With this White Paper, the Government has formalised its ‘levelling up’ ambition; this, however, can only be reached by additional ‘truly new’ investment, a coherent articulation of next steps and by adopting a collaborative approach in developing the mid- and longer-term implementation plans with stakeholders being actively involved in shaping sustainable longer-term solutions.


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