When I travel abroad in my capacity as an ambassador for the UK’s financial and professional services industry – in all, spending about a quarter of my year in office overseas – I have the opportunity to meet many world leaders. All are keen to learn more about the City, and how we have achieved our current status as the world’s number one financial centre and vital base for international businesses.
Of course, I speak to these leaders about London’s history of doing business, our strong rule of law, our established financial infrastructure, the unique cluster of professional services, and our world-leading regulators as all being key to economic growth. However, I always highlight the one feature of the City of London that I believe is the true differentiator, and which makes this city what it is today.
I refer, of course, to the hundreds of thousands of talented and highly educated people that come into the City to work every single day. Without these lawyers, bankers, insurance brokers, management consultants and technology entrepreneurs, London would be great, but not the greatest global city. It is this wide and deep pool of talent which sets us apart.
As talented as they are, these men and women were not born to run a large company, or execute international business deals. While nature gifted them intelligence and aptitude, these skills were nurtured through years of education and support from exceptional schools, teachers and universities.
The City has always been active in education, even before the development of the modern school system. It is not commonly known that the Livery Companies of the City of London are the founding-pioneers of apprenticeships. They did so in order to protect and pass on the highest standards of British crafts and trades, while honing the skills of a new generation of leathermakers, goldsmiths, or needlemakers and the like. They knew this investment was essential to keeping a trade healthy and vibrant.
Today, the UK’s universities provide exceptional training across a huge range of professional and business sectors, producing top lawyers to supply London’s world-leading legal sector, computer science graduates to drive forward London’s fintech boom, and business graduates to ensure British firms continue to be the most efficient and effective in the world.
It is important that we maintain the open and outward-looking nature of the UK’s education sector in order to attract the world’s most promising young people to study here. We should also prioritise retaining and supporting the top-quality students and young professionals who are already in the country, in order to maintain our competitive position as the world’s leading financial centre.
The City of London has always taken a great interest in education, as a priceless investment in tomorrow’s business leaders and the means to upskill the next generation of young people. While my own education may not be the traditional one of a lord mayor – I hold a PhD in seventeenth century French opera – my years as an educationalist across every sector and type of institution have instilled in me a great respect for education and all it can do to make a city great.
I know that if we maintain our focus on providing a first class education to every individual in this country, the future is bright indeed.