Concern for universities after key ‘levelling up’ plan published

Support for higher education is not mentioned in the prospectus of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, a key part of the government’s “levelling up” agenda following the loss of EU investment in deprived areas of the UK

Universities have been left with little to cheer after the government published plans for a key element of its so-called “levelling up” agenda.

There is no specific mention of university funding in the prospectus of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which the government claims will provide £2.6 bn of new funding for local investment by March 2025.

Instead, higher education features on a lengthy list of “the types of groups that should be represented on the local partnership groups”, helping advise local authorities as they develop plans to invest their funding allocation.

“Once plans are approved, partners should be asked to provide advice on strategic fit and deliverability – taking care to avoid conflicts of interest,” says the prospectus.

The Shared Prosperity Fund is the government’s response to the post-Brexit withdrawal of EU investment from the EU, targeted to support the most deprived areas of the UK.

In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to match the EU’s £1.5 bn annual subsidy.

Instead, says the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank , its offer of £2.6 bn over three years represents a real terms cut of 43%.

Read more: In February we reported on how the post-Brexit UK is still locked out of full participation in the EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe

The government’s announcement on the Shared Prosperity Fund drew a measured response from Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK.

Rather than note any concerns over the lack of detail regarding higher education’s role in “levelling up”, he instead underlined why the sector should be supported.

“Universities are at the heart of economic growth, improving skills, creating opportunities, and generating prosperity for everyone in the UK,” said Jarvis.

“The UK Shared Prosperity Fund should provide crucial investment in local training, innovation, business support and skills projects, which are essential to the success of ‘levelling up’.

“It is critical that the new fund allows universities across the four nations of the UK to continue providing successful projects that directly support local employers, jobs, and communities, and that funding for higher level skills projects continues to flow from 2022, otherwise community groups and businesses will miss out on vital training and upskilling opportunities.

“Universities are ready and able to work with local authorities to boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards, and spread opportunities. The government should ensure that implementation of the fund ensures that local areas are supported in doing so.”

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