Universities are neglecting a multibillion-pound market on their doorstep while devoting increasing time and energy to attracting overseas students, a new report says.
The Learning and Skills Council estimates that employers spend about £8 billion a year on externally provided training in the workplace, yet it is thought that higher education has only a £125 million share of this business.
A discussion paper published this week by the Council for Industry and Higher Education looks at what is preventing universities from tapping into more of this expanding market.
The paper, to be considered at a CIHE conference in London on February 24, says universities do not consider workforce development to be a priority, and higher education has not been seen as a natural source of the kind of training businesses are looking for.
But Richard Brown, CIHE chief executive, said universities could no longer afford to neglect this potential source of income.
He said: "Employers spend billions of pounds every year with external learning providers but very little of this is with universities or colleges. Yet both sectors are strapped for cash and either closing departments or chasing foreign students. Should they not also try to capture a greater share of the vast employer market that is in their backyard?"
According to the discussion paper, higher education's involvement in work-based learning is hampered by a growing need among businesses for tailor-made courses. Employers want small chunks of learning that universities have not traditionally been geared up to provide, and that are difficult to support through the current higher education funding system.
The Government's Skills White Paper, expected next month, will suggest that the Higher Education Funding Council for England develop a strategy to back universities moving into this market. The CIHE argues that higher education institutions should be ready to capitalise on this in response to the skills agenda laid out in the White Paper as well as boosting their income.
The CIHE's discussion paper says: "Given the changing views on lifelong learning and the economic imperative for improvements to workforce development, is it not timely that higher education institutions should take a closer look at their role in helping to meet businesses' skills needs?"
The CIHE plans to produce a report on responses to its paper in June. Contact the CIHE on 020-7383 7667 for a copy.