Report says local higher-education provision is key to economic regeneration

The government wants more bids from towns and cities to create local universities, to address the UK’s deficit of degree-level skills and aid regional economic regeneration.

It plans to accelerate the expansion of the UK university system, building a further 20 higher-education centres in the next six years to add to the 17 already opened or with funding agreed since 2003.

John Denham, secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills, has today asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to lead a consultation into accelerating the programme.

The consultation will canvas the views of those involved in regeneration, development and planning at a local level, including regional development agencies, local authorities, business groups, education partners and community groups.

The “New University Challenge”, published today by the DIUS, underlines the economic importance of higher education, saying that universities can help local business by creating relevant skills and boosting innovation and competitiveness.

The government has identified a latent demand for higher education from the 5 million adults of working age who already have a level-three qualification (A-level or equivalent) but have not studied further.

According to Lord Leitch’s skills review, the UK needs to increase the proportion of its working population that have degree-level skills from 30% to 40%. A one percentage point increase in this figure can increase productivity by 0.5%.

John Denham said: “Never have universities and colleges been more important to our country both nationally in ensuring our success on the world stage and locally in our towns and cities through the creation of jobs and new skills, driving regeneration and enriching cultural life.

“I want to build on the successes of the last few years which have seen new centres of higher education transforming local economies and the lives of local people. We must learn from these success stories and act on the growing evidence that locally based projects play a key role in helping local areas and people realise their potential.”

The government wants to see more bids that mobilise the support of local people, businesses and funding bodies, including local authorities and regional development agencies.

Funding for the new centres will come from the HEFCE’s strategic development fund, with additional funding to be attracted from external sources.

Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of the HEFCE, said: “We warmly welcome this initiative which will significantly build on the achievements of the funding council working with a wide range of partners in delivering higher education to parts of the country where there has been serious under-provision. Such developments can have a profound impact on economic regeneration.

“It is very encouraging that the government is prepared to support such an ambitious programme. Through the consultation we will be in a much better position to identify areas where the development of higher education provision will have the greatest impact as well as continuing to support existing developments.”