EU projects urgently need UK bridging funds, says Universities UK

As many as 164 university-led programmes in England and Wales are at risk when EU structural funds run out in the next 12 months

Bridging funds are needed to shore up over a hundred EU-supported projects until the government launches the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), Universities UK (UUK) has warned.

European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) support 192 university-led projects in England with £412 million. There are another 53 projects in Wales led by universities in receipt of £300m from the ESIF.

Now, UUK has urged the government to bridge the funding gap that threatens as many as 164 of these local training, skills and business projects, which could “stall or stop” by the time the UK government deliver a British alternative fund in 2024/25.

Uncertainty over the likely allocations of UKSPF heightens concerns: vital community projects and the jobs of experienced staff are at risk, UUK says.

The uncertainty around the implementation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, especially the timing, seriously threatens many projects in all four nations of the UK directly supporting local employers, jobs, and communities
– Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK

The FLEXIS App project, led by a team at the University of Cardiff, is one such endangered project: its £3m EU funding runs out in November 2022, putting its partnerships collaborating on the commercialisation of research to decarbonise future energy in danger. The Gloucestershire Growth Hub – a business support service led by the University of Gloucestershire, the GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership, and other partners – will exhaust its EU funding in March 2023, jeopardising the university investment. The Gloucestershire Growth Hub has generated 1,200 jobs, £155 million Gross Value Added and boosted turnover by £400m since 2014, it is estimated. 

The University of Manchester’s Bridging The Gap programme, delivered by the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), accelerates the adoption and commercialisation of graphene and 2D materials. 

Alex McDermott, managing director of Nationwide Engineering, a medium-sized construction firm that entered the programme in 2020, one of the project’s 200 SME partners, said: “We entered into a collaborative R&D programme with The University of Manchester to develop a graphene-enhanced concrete product that offers significantly improved strength whilst reducing overall CO2 output. The collaboration has been so successful that we are filing Intellectual Property, have created a new subsidiary and are employing several new roles within Greater Manchester.” 

“Universities fully support the intentions and ambitions on levelling up set out by the UK government,” said Alistair Jarvis, UUK chief executive.

“Given the importance of universities to levelling up, the uncertainty around the implementation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, especially the timing, seriously threatens many projects in all four nations of the UK directly supporting local employers, jobs, and communities. We need clarity and continuation funding to fill the financial gaps otherwise community groups and businesses will miss out on vital training and upskilling opportunities.” 

Universities do not have the money to fund these projects alone, he continued. 


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