Colleges best placed to lead a business and skills innovation revolution

08 Sep 2020

A new survey has found that colleges are held back from supporting business growth and innovation by a lack of funding and a clear remit from government. Colleges have good links with local employers, are working collaboratively to support business growth and innovation but are being held back from doing more.

Nearly 90% of colleges work with their Local Authority, Local Enterprise Partnership, Local Chamber of Commerce, and / or their neighbouring university to support business innovation. However, well over two-thirds also said a lack of funding and staff time meant they could not carry out more activity.  

Most colleges have good existing links with businesses that they use to inform their curriculum offer. The survey aimed to get a better understanding of what role colleges can and could play in supporting the development of new and existing businesses by providing advice and guidance and supporting innovation, including adoption of new technologies.

Colleges recognise their mission to meet local, regional (98%) and national skills needs (80%), to widen access and participation (89%) and support student enterprise and the need to retain skills within their local areas. Colleges stated they faced simple barriers to increased innovation activity which can easily be overcome. Three quarters of colleges cited funding for the capital to develop innovation spaces and to employ business innovation account managers to work with SMEs was holding them back.

AoC is making the following recommendations considering the findings:

  • Government should provide support in capital and revenue funding and set out a national remit for colleges to lead in this space to initiate a place-based business and skills innovation revolution.
  • Colleges need to secure resources to give alleviation, giving college staff the time and space to engage in innovation development and research activities.
  • Better collaboration between further education colleges in local areas to share best practice.

Responding to the findings, Chief Executive, David Hughes said:

Colleges want to do more to support SMEs to develop their innovation, business and skills strategies and help attract inward investment. Their work with businesses is a key priority and it brings important knowledge exchange to help inform curriculum and offer students real-life experiences.  With the right tailored support from the government and national recognition, colleges could do so much more in this space.

The foundations are there to build on. With stronger partnerships and sufficient funding and time, colleges could play a greater role in providing innovation support to local businesses and SMEs. I would urge DfE to use the FE white paper to make the case for business innovation and a real turning point for colleges. This would build on what already works well and what the Independent Commission on the College of the Future has found from other countries. We could quickly create a system that allows colleges to lead the way in a business innovation and skills revolution as the economy recovers.”

You can read the full survey results here.