Aston University 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 Graduate Advantage Scheme.
Dr Phil Extance, Pro Vice Chancellor for Business Partnerships and Knowledge Transfer, 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.
Words by Alex Earnshaw