Select Committee on Trade and Industry Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDICES TO THE MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

APPENDIX 1

Memorandum from Universities UK

INTRODUCTION

  1.  Universities UK welcomes the opportunity to submit a memorandum outlining our views of the regional agencies and related issues. Universities have made significant progress in addressing the regional agenda—many universities see regional involvement as an important part of their mission. The DTI and DfEE White Paper "Opportunity for All in a World of Change" recognised the central role played by universities as key drivers of the regional economy.

UNIVERSITIES' CONTRIBUTION TO THE REGIONS

  2.  Universities work closely with regional bodies to:

    —  develop effective partnerships with businesses both within the Funding Council's Higher Education Reach-out to Business and the Community initiative (HEROBAC) and more widely;

    —  improve graduate employability;

    —  promote social inclusion;

    —  access European Regional funding streams; and

    —  encourage technology transfer and commercialisation of university research.

  3.  Universities UK is working in partnership with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), and the Centre for Urban and Regional Development (CURDS) at the University of Newcastle to map the range of contributions which universities make to their regions, and to develop better ways of assessing their impact. These contributions include:

    —  the role of the universities as businesses and major employers in their own right;

    —  the provision of highly skilled manpower;

    —  the availability of cultural, social and sporting facilities;

    —  supporting regeneration through major building projects and student accommodation;

    —  undertaking research about the region, or research that benefits regional companies;

    —  contributing to perceptions of the region as a suitable location for business investment; and

    —  participating in regional political and administrative structures.

  4.  The final reports will be launched at a Universities UK conference in June 2001. They will contain numerous examples of successful projects that universities have undertaken in partnership with regional agencies.

SMALL BUSINESS SERVICE

  5.  Universities are developing close links with the Small Business Services (SBS). SBS advisory staff can help universities to communicate more effectively with SMEs. University consortia are working in partnership with the SBS to highlight the range of services that universities can offer to SMEs.

  6.  Universities UK trusts that the SBS will continue to act as an objective honest broker, linking SMEs to the third party providers of specialist services. We hope that the Government will ensure that there is no shift in the SBS mission from being a sign posting and referral service, to one charged with delivery and income generation. Such a change in focus would compromise the SBS's objectivity, and place it in direct competition with the rest of the public sector business support network.

LEARNING AND SKILLS COUNCILS

  7.  Higher education is not part of the Learning and Skills Councils (LSC) agenda. However, it is essential that LSCs are in regular contact with local higher education institutions in the interests of progression and lifelong learning. The majority of the local LSC boards have higher education representatives, and university consortia are building good working relationships with LSC staff.

LINKS TO OTHER REGIONAL BODIES

  8.  University Associations have regular, formal and informal contacts with RDAs, Regional Assemblies and Government Offices, and are represented on a range of committees, project and other groups.

  9.  Relationships with the RDAs are particularly strong and universities have worked with the RDAs to formulate action plans and other regional strategies. The recent "Skills for Life: The national strategy for improving adult literacy and numeracy skills", from the DfEE specifies that RDAs "give priority to adult literacy and numeracy" in their Skills Action Plans. We are concerned that this may hinder RDA attempts to move to higher skills concerns.

FUNDING ARRANGEMENTS

  10.  There is a need for more longer-term funding programmes for regional initiatives. Other than HEROBAC (now the Higher Education Innovation Fund), universities do not receive any Government funding to support the development of their regionally-based activities. All such activities have an opportunity cost.

  11.  Universities UK would welcome an examination of the present pattern by which funding is made available. Theoretically, funding is provided one year at a time, but in practice (by the time bidding, tendering and contracting has gone through) it is quite commonly eight months at a time, which increases the difficulty in achieving a significant change.

DIVERSITY OF MISSIONS

  12.  Universities have to respond to other needs—eg the need to maintain centres of excellence or to raise aspirations to enter HE among people in the local area. The interactions between regional and other roles can be complex. World-class research produced by universities makes a major contribution to attracting inward investment and encouraging research-related spin-off companies. The regional contribution would be diminished by any constraint on universities' international roles.

CONCLUSIONS

  13.  Government initiatives introduced in the regions over the last few years have presented significant challenges for HE. Continuing effort is needed on all sides to establish good working relationships, to ensure that information is disseminated, and to clarify roles.

April 2001


 
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