During a visit to the University yesterday, his first to a university campus since taking charge of Higher Education policy, Lord Mandelson told representatives from across both sectors that the creation of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) underlined the huge contribution they make to both the UK economy and wider society.
He said: 'The very things that will help us get through this downturn quicker, like: ensuring an environment that encourages enterprise; equipping people with the right skills and opportunities to thrive; and driving growth and progress through world-class education and research - will be even more important to our prosperity in the years ahead.
'Britain has fundamental strengths in these areas already. We can see that from the skills and innovation here at Aston University and FE campuses across our country.
'But the competition’s getting tougher. And it’s going to take work to maintain and develop the UK’s lead in the hi-tech, hi-value industries of the future.
'That mission goes to the very heart of what our new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been created to achieve.
'Our purpose is to build up the knowledge and creativity that will drive Britain’s competitiveness directly, but also indirectly by reinforcing our cultural awareness, understanding and confidence.
'Character and competitiveness are not mutually exclusive. Together they shape our ambitions and define our ability to realise them effectively and excellent Higher and Further Education support them both, enabling people, whatever their background or circumstances, to make the most of their talents and their lives.'
While at Aston, Lord Mandelson toured some of the University’s facilities showcasing the sort of work universities and colleges are doing to build Britain’s resources of skill, knowledge and creativity through research, partnerships with business and internships.
He met with local businesses and higher and further education representatives to hear about the real help that Aston University is offering industry through initiatives such as the INDEX project.
Lord Mandelson said:
'Higher education is more important to the future of our country than ever before which is why we continue to invest in our universities at record levels, £7.5bn this year alone.
'The sector already helps drive our economic success, contributing £45billion to our economy in 2003/04, supporting almost 600,000 jobs and bringing £3.6billion in exports.
'Alongside this they have clearly shown that they can provide a lifeline in these challenging times by offering support to local business, through Innovation Voucher initiatives, such as INDEX, as well as offering targeted short courses to adults who have lost their jobs and connecting small businesses to graduates and university expertise.'