Our response to the green paper has been shaped by feedback from four local events across England that brought together universities, local MPs, business leaders, chambers of commerce, and local leaders. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), growth hubs, enterprise zones and local councils were represented. The four events were hosted by: Bournemouth University, bringing together stakeholders in the South West, King's College London for London, Aston University for the West Midlands, and Newcastle University for the North East. Each event generated fresh thinking and proposals for change – as Andrew Buckley from RTC North recently highlighted and Ross Smith's forthcoming blog from the North East Chamber of Commerce will also explore. Our response also reflects feedback from right across the UUK membership.
In our response, we recommend a step change in the leadership role that universities play in their local areas and regions as part of an industrial strategy. There is an immense opportunity for local university networks to go further in how they support and incubate local businesses, collaborate with employers, reach out to learners, and engage with local communities. Strong local networks and collaborations of universities already exist, and Universities UK proposes to develop further local collaborations to work with their local areas and regions. The government could support enhanced networks at the local level between universities, businesses, employers and learners through business rate relief, VAT exemptions, innovation voucher schemes and targeted funding.
We emphasise in our response that the government must uphold the principle of supporting and funding research excellence wherever it is found. The additional £4.7 billion of research and development funding needs to sustain the UK's world-class dual support system, and the current balance of funding within it. We also recommend increased investment in the Higher Education Innovation Fund in England and innovation funding in the devolved administrations.
The green paper is strangely silent on the importance of graduate skills to the UK's economy and this omission needs to be addressed in the next steps on the industrial strategy. Graduates gain a broad range of skills in their studies, and there are predicted shortages of graduates up to 2020-22. There is a broad crossover between academic and vocational education which is also not acknowledged in the green paper. One example is where universities collaborate with further education colleges on higher-level apprenticeships, and universities are enthusiastically engaging with the delivery of degree apprenticeships. Universities UK is working with universities who are interested in using their apprenticeship levy to support employer partnerships at the local level, through transferring 10% of their levy to other employers. So far 11 universities have joined and we expect more to join.
Universities in the UK have much to contribute to the industrial strategy, and to their local areas and regions. Evidence of this is highlighted in regional briefings that we have published alongside our response to the green paper, which highlight 'Why universities matter' to local areas and regions in England. The tangible examples of how universities work with businesses, local services and their communities are a good start. We strongly believe that through strengthening links at the local level with local networks of universities, even more is possible. And that this may well be the key to unlocking the UK's future prosperity.