Eight-point plan for education to spearhead recovery

06 April 2021

University leaders have unveiled an eight-point plan, which would allow higher education to spearhead the UK’s post-Covid recovery and boost economic growth in the West Midlands and beyond.

A consortium known as University Alliance, has released a list of key policy proposals, which it believes could play a play a key role in empowering universities to lead the nation’s economic, social and cultural recovery.

The 12-strong group, which includes Birmingham City University and Coventry University in the West Midlands, has called for government to increase provision for degree apprenticeships, boost access to key teaching and healthcare training programmes, and raise investment into research and development.

The key proposals which have been shared under the title ‘Powering the UK’s Future’ outlined by the group are:

  1. Ensure regulation does not hinder innovation and disincentive flexible modes of study.
  2. Make higher technical provision more accessible and transparent. Explicitly brand programmes as preparation for progression within a particular technical route from level four to eight.
  3. Improve awareness of degree apprenticeships and make them more flexible. Unlock the Apprenticeships Levy to flexible and part-time earn-and-learn programmes.
  4. Level 6 and 7 apprenticeships should normally lead to degrees. Universities should ensure that the designation of the award shows it was achieved through the apprenticeship route (e.g., BScAppr)
  5. Incentivise schools to offer increased placement opportunities for trainee teachers.
  6. Increase capacity on nursing and allied health courses. This could be achieved by increasing placement tariffs; increasing the use of simulation and virtual/augmented reality; and expanding placements beyond the NHS.
  7. Reach the 2.4 per cent Research & Development (R&D) target by 2027. Ensure investment facilitates more places across the UK to fulfil their R&D potential and more opportunities for collaboration between universities and industry.
  8. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund should be underpinned by a National Framework setting balance of funding to skills development, business support (particularly for SMEs) and research & innovation.

University Alliance is made up of institutions with long histories of working in their local communities, alongside businesses and in training workers in key sectors including healthcare and tech.

The Alliance’s 12 universities train almost a quarter of the nation’s nurses, support almost 24,000 businesses with consultancy, facilities and research, and have been awarded more than £68m to spend on regenerating their local communities, alongside their own significant investments.

Professor Julian Beer (pictured), deputy vice-chancellor at Birmingham City University, said: “Universities are uniquely equipped to help the nation tackle some of the major challenges brought about by the pandemic, and this plan sets out exactly how they can be at the heart of our recovery.

“Research, partnerships with industry and training the next generation of workers are all key parts of a university’s role, and in the current economic climate these functions are more important than ever.

“The last 12 months have brought challenges none of us could have anticipated, but the collaboration, innovation and training that higher education institutions promote and participate in can be a real catalyst for growth. And nowhere is the truer than here in the West Midlands one of the UK’s start-up hotspots.”

University Alliance is already working to find new treatments to tackle obesity, creating new training routes for police officers, supporting SMEs to develop new technologies, developing green innovations, redesigning a struggling high street, and working with TV companies to produce new programmes.

Projects include Birmingham City University’s STEAMhouse, which brings together artists, academics and industry to collaborate on new projects and could help support the region’s growth and create jobs.

STEAMhouse has supported more than 600 businesses, launched a new incubation centre for business collaboration, and is currently investing £70m in the regeneration of a historic Birmingham building to host a new innovation campus.

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