Colleges to play key role in regeneration

March 24, 2000

Universities and further education colleges in the Midlands have been called upon to play a key role in regenerating the region in the wake of BMW's decision to offload Birmingham-based Rover cars.

Academics on an emergency task force have said that further and higher education institutions must work together to devise a network of retraining opportunities for up to 9,000 workers who could be laid off from the Longbridge plant.

Kumar Bhattacharyya, director of Warwick Manufacturing Group at Warwick University and a member of the task force, said some institutions had already begun working with local authorities and industry bodies to identify ways of regenerating the region, especially on and around Rover's Longbridge site.

Other universities playing key roles in the initiative include Aston, Coventry, Staffordshire and Central England.

The task force is also looking at what can be done to develop parts of the sprawling Longbridge site. One strong possibility is the development of a high-technology research and development park, which would exploit and underpin the region's academic and industrial strengths in areas such as manufacturing and electronics.

Professor Bhattacharyya strongly denied rumours that his own group, which carries out manufacturing R&D, is looking to purchase some of the Longbridge site to set up up a manufacturing R&D facility.

"WMG has a turnover of Pounds 80 million. We are certainly not thinking of setting up anything on the Longbridge site. You only expand when there is a need, and there is none for us at present."

Michael Wright, vice-chancellor of Aston University, who is also on the task force, said universities and colleges in the region must be at the forefront of moves towards regeneration.

"There will be significant activity in retraining those who have lost their jobs and in finding new opportunities," he said.

Professor Bhattacharyya said WMG delivered a "one-off" training programme for senior Rover managers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "It was a specific task that was run down about five years ago. We do occasionally get one or two people from Rover coming to us, but that is about it," he said.

In the news, page 8

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