Government and education officials are making a concerted effort to create an annual Pounds 100 million stream of funding for universities to help strengthen their links with industry, business and local communities.
First mooted more than a year ago by Brian Fender, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the initiative so far has been limited to the earmarking of Pounds 76 million over four years from existing council funds.
The first tranche, totalling Pounds 20 million, under this "reach-out" fund is to be farmed out to institutions later this month for projects running through to 2003. A second round of funding is to be allocated next summer.
The Department for Trade and Industry and HEFCE believe it is a matter of urgency that further funds are secured to ensure institutions can build on their initiatives and widen participation.
The beefed-up fund would form the "third leg" of core university funding from the HEFCE, alongside support for research and teaching. Professor Fender said the number and quality of bids from institutions for reach-out funds has been "extremely encouraging and impressive".
"But to have the maximum effect for this area of activity we need a Pounds 100 million a year dedicated to it. This can only be achieved through additional funding," he added.
The DTI and HEFCE are pushing for long-term support from the Treasury and the Department for Education and Employment.
A key aim of the third leg, or "applications" stream of funding, is to encourage and support links between universities and industries and local communities across a much broader range of subjects than science and technology, the focus of many government initiatives so far.
Professor Fender said: "We have evidence that many academics in many disciplines believe they have a vital contribution to make in building links with ind-ustry, commerce and local communities."
The move to broaden the impact of the fund could mean academics in areas such as the arts, design and performance music are encouraged to build stronger links with the creative industries.
These disciplines have not really been encouraged or supported to develop such links in the past in any coherent way.
A DTI source said that while the government had done much to encourage enterprise among university scientists and technologists, the department was coming to the view that wealth creation and enterprise should be seen as a challenge for all disciplines.
"The message we would want to send out with a full-blown applications stream is that academics of all disciplines should look to up their game."
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