The UK economy could benefit from more people of all ages attending university, a report has concluded.
It also suggests the advance of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and digital technology, as well as the challenges of Brexit and an ageing population are creating greater demand for those with qualifications above level 4.
These include HNC/Ds, foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
The Universities UK report highlights the need for continual upgrading of skills, lifelong learning and study of higher education qualifications at all levels.
The percentage of young people from England entering higher education has reached 49%, but there has been a steady decline in part-time and mature student numbers, Universities UK said.
The report calls on policymakers to help reverse the latter trend and encourage closer links between universities and employers.
Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of Universities UK, said: “The UK economy and society needs more graduates. Educating more people of all ages at university would grow our economy faster, by increasing productivity, competitiveness and innovation.
“To meet future challenges, the government should develop new policies to make part-time study more appealing, upskilling easier and encourage lifelong learning among our ageing population.”
Edwin Morgan, of the Institute of Directors, said: “A significant factor in the UK’s low productivity growth is that firms aren’t able to fully adopt and embed new technologies in their business models.
“In many cases this is because they lack the required skills. The government must view education as an integral part of its industrial strategy.”
The report’s findings included:
• In 2016, 440,000 new professional jobs were created, but there were only 316,690 UK-domiciled first-degree graduates to fill them, leaving a recruitment gap more than doublethat of 2015.
• By 2030, it is estimated there will be a UK talent deficit of between 600,000 to 1.2 million workers in the financial, business, technology, media and telecommunications sectors.
• Universities provide many professional and technical qualifications, estimated at a41% of overall provision.
• The number of part-time students in higher and further education, and with alternative providers fell from 539,645 in 2013-14 to 476,910 in 2016-17.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Everyone with the talent and potential should be able to take advantage of our world class universities and it’s fantastic to see a record number of 18-year-olds going to university, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Graduates provide employers with the skills needed for a future economy and a degree can open up a huge range of opportunities, alongside a premium on earnings.
“But for those who choose not to go to university, we’re introducing gold-standard T-levels to provide technical education on a par with academic routes, and have driven up the quality of apprenticeships to widen the options for young people.”