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CIPD Conference and Exhibition: University fees hike will affect recruitment, says NHS HR director

The HR sector must adapt to changes caused by increases in university tuition fees, according to a public sector HR director.

The coalition government plans to lift the current ‘cap’ on fees to £6,000, and says this could be set at £9,000—almost three times the current figure—in exception circumstances.

Thousands of students and other opponents will demonstrate on the streets of London in protest at the proposals.

Speaking at the CIPD Conference in Manchester on Tuesday, Roger Wilson, director of HR and organisational development at University Hospitals of Morecombe Bay NHS Trust, said the hike will affect the demographic of those seeking employment.

"We need to look at all the factors that influence the way we look at the talent pool," Wilson said. "With the cost of people going to university, I think were going to have a different talent pool of very bright 18 year olds who won’t be able to go to higher education."

Tuition fees were introduced in 1998 but remained limited to £1,250 a year until 2006, when the Labour government brought in differential—or ‘top up’—fees, with a limit of £3,290.

Wilson said changes in the demographic of university attendance had affected their recruitment work over the years.

"We’ve been getting a different type of demographic coming into the [Lancaster University] Medical School," he said. "Traditionally medical schools are populated by a-star pupils; high academic performers.

"This is great but it really, really helps if they can also talk to somebody. Intake is now increasingly from non-traditional backgrounds and there is a much wider engagement. We’re looking at bringing people who may not have the most sparkling academic career; high achievers, but those who also have the ability to talk to people. This is very important in terms of the skill sector and sustainability."

Wilson explained his organisations engagement with local schools was in part to combat a loss of appeal in working in the public sector that savings initiatives may be causing.

"There’s a big danger in all of this - people will look at the public sector and the NHS and go ‘I don’t fancy my chances there. The private sector is where I see my future and where I’m going to work’. There’s a real danger that people get switched off public sector employment and we lose a lot of talented people. There will be times when it picks up and we experience a bit of growth, so we’ve got to keep that engagement going."

Wilson said, as well as taking into consideration changing demographics, workforce planning also focused on the needs of the organisation.

"It takes an awful long time to make a doctor," Wilson added. "One of the most exciting things were doing is working with Lancaster University Medical School and look at the curriculum, because it’s not just about numbers of people, it’s about the type of doctor that we will need to be coming out of education production line in 2014. What’s the health service going to look like? Will they just be a hospital doctor or are they need to be able to flexible through community services?"

Wilson was speaking at the session‘Workforce planning: future-proofing your organisation, which was chaired by Angela Baron, adviser—OD and engagement, HR capability, CIPD. Toby Peyton-Jones, director HR at Siemens and North West Europe Siemens, also spoke at the seminar.