Smaller firms lack HE interest

September 1, 2000

Post-1992 universities face an uphill struggle to build links with small and medium-sized firms, according to a new report.

The report, published by the Coalition of Modern Universities, reveals the difficulties in encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises, categorised as ranging from having a handful of employees to 250, to take higher education seriously as a resource for staff development and expertise as well as a recruitment ground.

Five new universities and 500 SMEs were surveyed. A little more than a fifth of the SMEs took advantage of continuing professional development courses offered by institutions. Only one in six SMEs tapped into the expertise held by universities.

Less than half (47 per cent) of the SMEs had recruited a graduate in the past three years. A little more than a third had provided work placements for undergraduates. And in some areas just 11 per cent of SMEs surveyed had had any kind of contact with the local post-1992 institution.

The study, Modern Universities and SMEs: Building Relationships, was carried out by the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University and IFF Research Ltd.

It concludes that there is a "large measure of indifference in some sections of the SME community" towards continuing professional development and that university initiatives to stimulate interest may make little difference.

It also says that while there may be a latent demand for higher education services, "the majority (of SMEs) appeared able to cover all their needs internally or through contact with alternative sources of support".

But the report does highlight the significant progress made by the five surveyed universities - Bournemouth, Northumbria, Staffordshire, London Guildhall and Westminster - and the economic benefits of their work.

The report shows that most of the 100 or so SMEs that had used these universities to provide continuing professional development were satisfied with the courses.

The report also reveals that almost half of the SMEs that had recruited graduates in the past three years benefited through their strong links with the local university.

The report concludes that there is a latent demand for graduates in SMEs.

Details: cmushort2.htm

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