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Universities, place and the industrial strategy

James Ransom

James Ransom

Former Policy Researcher
Universities UK

Three ways local university collaborations can spur growth

​In 1975, government officials published A ten-year industrial strategy for Britain. Although the volume was slim (a mere ten pages), universities were not mentioned once. Fast forward to today, and this year's industrial strategy green paper mentions universities 63 times. This is an accurate reflection of the important role universities play in their local areas – and a wider appreciation of this in government – but it is also a signal that universities are a driving force for the future prosperity of the UK as a whole.

​Also prominent in the industrial strategy green paper is the importance of place. Universities UK welcomes this, and building on the significant economic and social role of universities in their local area is the foundation of UUK's green paper response. Universities contribute to broader economic growth which benefits the entirety of the UK and they also make significant contributions at the local and regional level (check out our regional briefings for some great examples).

UUK also believes the local role of universities can be strengthened further, in particular by building on local collaborations of universities. Our submission to the Autumn Budget 2017, taking place on 22 November, sets out three recommendations for government on how we can do this:​

  1. Better matching of graduate skills with employer demand at the local level: this could involve government supporting networks of local universities, employers and stakeholders to encourage employer demand for graduate employment and work experience and match the best possible candidates to available opportunities. These networks could also monitor skills gaps at the local level, encourage collaborative development of courses and programmes to address local needs, and help address disparities in high level skills between local areas. These local networks could build on the experience of HEFCE's National Collaborative Outreach Programme, where local consortia help the most disadvantaged young people in England to progress into higher education.
  2. Create stronger pathways through technical education from greater local collaboration: this could involve systematically reviewing the barriers to increased local collaboration and creation of collaborative models between universities, further education colleges and schools, and addressing these barriers.​​
  3. Better match companies and investors to relevant university expertise: targeted support should be given to developing local or regional networks of universities with a particular focus on signposting, supporting and incubating businesses, and training (for example university-run workshops to support SMEs with business proposal writing). There are several possible mechanisms to deliver this: setting up more University Enterprise Zones, through additional Higher Education Innovation Funding, the forthcoming UK Shared Prosperity Fund, through business rate relief or VAT exemptions, or innovation vouchers.

These recommendations would help tackle three particularly pressing issues facing areas looking to boost productivity and employment: the wide higher-level skills disparities that exist across local labour markets; clearer pathways into, and through, technical education, with clear and understandable information on the options available to students; and enabling businesses (particularly SMEs) to access university expertise as required. The industrial strategy presents an excellent opportunity to further strengthen the contribution of universities to local growth.

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