Aimed at business leaders without the time to study for an MBA, the Leading Enterprise and Development (Lead) programme from Lancaster University Management School offers training for two to three days a month over 10 months, including shadowing of fellow participants.
So far most SMEs have been offered the service for free, with a minority paying a subsidised rate of £2,000 to £3,000. Now Lancaster will try to sell the training at its full cost price of £10,000.
Sue Smith, director of the Lead programme, said many small business owners could not take the time out to gain a traditional business qualification such as an MBA. "SMEs don't come to universities to get further qualifications," she said.
To date, around 1,250 courses have been run in the North West, in collaboration with 12 other providers in the region.
Lancaster will continue to offer heavily subsidised courses in Wales, aiming to provide 600 by 2015 in partnership with Swansea and Bangor universities. However, elsewhere the course will be provided at full cost.
A private firm, QuoLux, will deliver the course in the South West at University of Gloucestershire facilities, using contracted academics. The Lead programme will also run at Lancaster's Work Foundation in London. Lancaster will accredit the quality of the course content, not the content itself, Dr Smith said.
Colin Wren, professor of applied microeconomics at Newcastle University Business School, said that an analysis of more than 100 participants since 2004 showed that the total turnover of their companies had grown by 5.2 per cent in real terms, outstripping the performance of the UK economy. Of those whose firms had grown since they took the course, 88 per cent attributed at least some of this success to Lead.
The findings were unveiled earlier this week at the Engage HEI 2012 conference in London.
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, used the event to reiterate that universities should aim to increase their income from knowledge exchange by 10 per cent over the next three years.