Hub aims to make business links pay off

The Council for Industry and Higher Education has announced plans to launch a National Centre for Universities and Business to strengthen links between the two sectors with the aim of driving economic growth.

The centre will provide support and advice on university and business relations, helping institutions to establish international links and exploring issues that affect them, such as the impact of the new tuition fees regime on graduate recruitment.

The setting-up of such a centre, recommended in the Wilson Review of Business-University Collaboration published in February, was backed by the government in its response, announced today.

Funding of £50,000 to cover the centre’s initial costs will come from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and parallel bodies in other parts of the UK.

A spokesman for Hefce said the money would underwrite the development of a business plan crafted by a steering group chaired by Sir Richard Lambert, the former director general of the CBI, and Anton Muscatelli, the principal of the University of Glasgow.

The group plans to sign up a range of funders and sponsors in order to launch the centre fully in the autumn with a long-term funding plan.

David Docherty, chief executive of the CIHE, told Times Higher Education that the centre’s revenues were likely come from a mix of sources including charitable foundations, contract projects and the production of bespoke reports, in a similar vein to the CIHE itself.

One of its responsibilities will be to publish an annual “state of the relationship report”, the first in 2013, which is intended to influence policy development in the area of university-business links.

The centre’s main job will be to assemble such evidence, Mr Docherty said. “There are a lot of anecdotes around, and I want to [move] from anecdotes to evidence,” he said. “You need a consistent baseline to then judge success.”

Unlike the Higher Education Business Community Interaction survey, produced by Higher Education Statistics Agency, the centre’s report will cover a range of indicators as well as funding.

Libby Hackett, director of the University Alliance of business-focused institutions, said she was “genuinely excited” about what the new centre could achieve.

She also stressed the amount of expertise already existing in the area of university-business relations.

“What the new CIHE centre needs to avoid doing is recreating the wheel or to be just another talking shop for ideas,” she said.

“The way it is funded will play a critical role in this. Public funding cannot be the only source; [the centre] must seek more innovative funding models that engage its partners from universities and business,” she added.

The steering group will include five vice-chancellors – among them Dame Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University, and Quintin McKellar, vice-chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire – as well as senior representative from five companies.

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