British universities and colleges will be able to bid for grants from a E4.7 billion (Pounds 2.9 billion)budget, financed by the European Commission, writes Keith Nuthall. The money is earmarked for education, training and employment over the next seven years.
Social affairs commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou said E1.2 billion, distributed under the Objective 3 regional funding programme, would be reserved for lifelong learning.
Fourteen per cent (E664 million) is to be reserved for "upgrading existing competencies and emerging skills shortages", such as information technology. Seven per cent (E322 million) has been set aside for programmes including women's education, to improve equality in the labour market.
Applications should be made through the government's regional offices in England, the Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales. Detailed guidance will be issued by Brussels next month.
Ms Diamantopoulou said the "ambitious programme of action" is aimed "particularly at preventing the drift into long-term unemployment, encouraging the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups and their integration into the labour market, promoting lifelong learning and in-company training, and ensuring that positive steps are taken to bring about gender equality."
The projects will be funded jointly, with the UK contributing E5.2 billion over seven years and E639 million from other sources. Money is available to all areas except regions covered by Objective 1 regional development funds.