Universities should do more for their local communities rather than concentrating all their efforts on boosting their national and international profiles, a government minister has told MPs.
Lifelong learning minister George Mudie told the Commons' employment sub-committee that he expected universities and further education colleges to play a major role in the eight new regional development agencies to be set up in April. The RDAs' role will be to promote economic regeneration and development through partnership with existing bodies.
Mr Mudie said: "I feel that some universities could do with paying more attention to what's going on on their doorstep rather than the world. I would plead with them to look at their localities and be alive to them. I think universities are a valuable resource - not only to the world, but to their localities."
Mr Mudie also warned that the Further Education Funding Council, and by implication the Higher Education Funding Council for England, would have to become more aware of its regional responsibilities. He said institutions should understand how important RDAs were to the government.
"One of the reasons I firmly welcome RDAs coming in is because of the evolution and change they will effect on the FEFC," he said. "Already we are saying they must make their regional arm more responsive."
But Mr Mudie said the aim was not for RDAs simply to order about existing regional bodies, which would include the funding councils, individual colleges and universities, Training and Enterprise Councils, local authorities and employers.
He said that the government wanted a constructive dialogue between all the players. He played down fears of possible turf wars between different organisations pursuing their own regional agendas.
"Nothing would be worse than a good institution being directed by an RDA to do something and it not working out," he said.
The HEFCE has recently appointed four new regional consultants to join the existing four. Their job is to work with universities on strategic and regional issues, including collaboration.
The FEFC has nine committees in the regions whose role will include forming strategic partnerships in` order to meet needs and gaps identified by RDAs.