SIR Ron Dearing may recommend top-slicing higher and further education budgets as part of his blueprint for regional collaboration.
He is said to have taken a keen interest in a report produced by the Council for Industry and Higher Education which recommends that some Pounds 40 million is taken from the FE and HE funding councils as their contribution to a regional cash pot of more than Pounds 130 million. Other money would come from Government departments and Training and Enterprise Councils.
The Dearing report will tackle the question of how universities can play a bigger and more effective role in local economies but it is unlikely to go into details.
CIHE director Richard Brown said that the report was therefore likely to cross-reference to the council's report. He said: "The signals are that Sir Ron sees the regional dimension as becoming increasingly important. The CIHE report will put flesh on the bones."
The council recommends that between Pounds 90 million and Pounds 130 million could be made available to pump-prime a series of regional collaborations which bring universities in particular, but also colleges, closer to small and medium-size businesses. Each of nine English regions could receive between Pounds 10 million and Pounds 15 million each.
The aim is to make higher education institutions more responsive to business needs and companies aware of the potential benefits of higher education in supplying a skilled workforce as well as providing research and consultancy support. Money could be ploughed directly into institutions.
The report has the broad backing of the higher and further education funding councils. And Helena Kennedy QC, whose report on widening participation in further education was published last week, is also thought to be supportive.
Mr Brown said: "It would be up to the local partnerships to decide where the money was needed most. But it could be that small and medium-sized businesses want to raise their skills base and in that case the best way to achieve that initially would be to get people into further education."
The CIHE report, SMEs and Higher Education: A Framework for the Future, is due to be published next week.