Sector shows increase in private income

July 16, 2009

Universities have substantially boosted their income from businesses and research partners in the past year, a study has found.

The Business and Community Interaction Survey, carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, says that the total value of contract research for universities grew to £835 million in 2007-08 - up more than 10 per cent on 2006-07.

Consultancy work for small- and medium-sized businesses grew by 25 per cent to £58 million, and 219 spin-off companies were created.

More speculative longer-term investment in collaborative research grew to more than £697 million over the period, a 4 per cent increase, and there was also an 11 per cent rise in professional development work, which rose to £537 million.

But despite these successes, a second report, compiled for Hefce by the CFE think-tank, formerly known as the Centre for Enterprise, highlights problems with the UK's high-level skills training policy.

Although 33 per cent of businesses have undertaken higher skills training in the past year, demand for professional grades outstripped that for academic or vocational qualifications, it says.

The report, Using Demand to Shape Supply, also states that businesses were willing to pay for such training, raising questions about the co-funding model.

James Kewin, joint managing director of CFE, said: "Only 5 per cent of businesses that had not undertaken high-level skills training reported that reduced costs would make them more likely to train. Promoting the availability of public subsidy ... through co-funding is likely to have a limited impact."

He added that although one third of firms said they would probably undertake higher-level skills training in the next 12 months, they had only a limited awareness of what universities had to offer.

Mr Kewin added that institutions should also be "unapologetic" about targeting larger, more lucrative firms.

Meanwhile, the Quality Assurance Agency is carrying out a survey of more than 55 universities and 11 Higher Education Academy subject centres to explore how well they are responding to employer needs.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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