Universities to help business through the downturn

09 April 2009


Aston University in Birmingham has received £1m in extra government funding to offer much needed support to businesses in the West Midlands hit by the recession.

The University has led a successful bid for funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Economic Challenge Investment Fund. The extra money will provide further support to two schemes, which provide innovation vouchers and graduate placement opportunities and are run in collaboration with the other West Midland Universities. 

Aston’s successful bid, was the second largest grant amount to be awarded by HEFCE. It will allow applications to be made in May for a further 104 extra innovation vouchers building on the successful Index Scheme, an initiative which provides small and medium-sized enterprises in the West Midlands with a £3,000 voucher to gain directly academic support from any of the West Midlands based universities.

An extra 150 student placements will also be created with regional businesses, through the successful Graduate Advantage Scheme, also based at Aston. This enables graduates from all West Midlands institutions to apply for placements and includes graduates returning to the region after studying elsewhere.

Dr Phil Extance, Pro Vice Chancellor for Business Partnerships and Knowledge Transfer at Aston University, said; “Universities can provide vital support to businesses but sometimes businesses do not make use of the skills and expertise that exists. We're delighted to win this latest bid, which will enable us to increase the scope of two of our successful activities and to allow universities to help businesses tackle the difficult issues they face. Creating a further 104 Innovation Vouchers is excellent news as the previous round of vouchers, awarded under the INDEX project, was nearly three times oversubscribed. It indicates that there is a real demand for support for innovation even in the current difficult economic climate.

“Similarly the West Midlands needs an additional 3,000 graduates per year moving into jobs in the private sector to match the UK average. The extra Graduate Advantage funding will help to give a boost for students graduating into the job market this summer.” 
Universities and colleges were given just four weeks to develop and submit their proposals to the Government for projects that could help local economies. The extra funding is designed to give an immediate boost to the economy, supporting additional university business partnership initiatives from now, until September 2010.

When announcing the successful Economic Challenge Investment fund bidders, Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE's Chief Executive, said “This shows that higher education can respond swiftly to the needs of the local communities it serves. We set universities and colleges a tough task, giving them just four weeks to develop and submit their proposals, but they responded with enthusiasm and imagination, with 120 bids in total to the Challenge Fund.” 
West Midlands based businesses wanting information on Innovation Vouchers can contact Andrew Wilson at Aston Business School on 0121 204 3271 (and at www.indexvouchers.org), and for information on placements through Graduate Advantage can contact Nicola Turner on 0121 204 4768 (and at www.graduateadvantage.co.uk). 

For the full list of successful bidders, click here


Notes to Editors;
West Midlands based Universities involved in the schemes are;

• Aston University 
• Birmingham City University
• Coventry University
• Harper Adams University College
• Keele University
• Newman University College Birmingham
• Open University
• Staffordshire University
• University College Birmingham
• University of Birmingham
• University of Warwick
• University of Wolverhampton
• University of Worcester

For further information contact Alex Earnshaw, Aston University Press Officer on 0121 204 4549