Cash for new campuses tied to skills drive

Bids to provide centres for 10,000 extra students must consider local needs, says Hannah Fearn

July 24, 2008

Universities will have to demonstrate how they will provide a "highly skilled workforce" for local businesses if they are to receive funding under the Government's drive to set up 20 new campuses for 10,000 extra students.

A consultation document on the project, published this week, also says that the Higher Education Funding Council for England will reject bids that are not of high quality and that are not supported by proof of an ongoing demand for higher education in the area concerned.

In assessing bids, the paper says, Hefce will look at "the extent to which proposals for centres address the creation of a highly skilled workforce with relevant skills for the local business community, increase higher-level skills particularly for those with no previous experience of higher education and support appropriate progression arrangements".

The paper says that it is "likely" that most centres will be "based in, or linked with, existing providers" and that most proposals will involve collaboration between institutions.

There will be no fixed bidding timetable - proposals will be accepted at any time up to 2014 - and there will be an ongoing approval process to distribute the £150 million in funding that has been allocated.

"As with all our spending, we will decide to invest in a centre only when we are satisfied that to do so will be an effective use of public funds," the document says. "It is possible that initial proposals will not prove to be sufficiently convincing for funding to be allocated."

David Baker, chair of GuildHE, which represents smaller, specialist institutions, said that its members would be particularly interested in the plans "because of their local role and their emphasis on professional and vocational education".

But he warned: "I wouldn't want to see something that's too narrowly focused because today's skills are tomorrow's obsolescent expertise, in that things are changing so rapidly."

A spokesperson for Universities UK said: "We would want to discuss how further provision might fit with what is already available, and of course what it might mean in terms of resources sought and provided."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com

See: www.hefce.ac.uk.

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