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Budget windfall for STEM places and spin-offs

Chancellor promises £305 million for ‘key subjects’ and commercial initiatives. Melanie Newman reports

Universities in England have been promised an extra £305 million in today’s Budget, creating an additional 20,000 student places for the next academic year.

Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in his Budget speech that a one-off payment of £270 million for 2010-11 would be made through a “university modernisation fund”.

“This will enable [the academy] to create 20,000 more university places, largely in key subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths, starting in September this year,” he said.

The chancellor also pledged to channel £35 million into a “university enterprise capital fund” to support spin-off companies and other commercial initiatives.

Mr Darling said: “Universities must make efficiency savings while focusing their funds rigorously on quality teaching and research,” but without damaging key skills and the country’s economic strengths.

The Budget guaranteed a place in education or training for all 16- and 17-year-olds, plus a job, work experience or training for everyone aged between 18 and 24. It also promised a higher number of apprenticeships.

The cost of these and other pledges would be met partly by switching resources from within existing budgets and by the higher revenues raised from the tax on bankers’ bonuses, the chancellor added.

Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary, said: “Building on our record expansion of higher education is more important now than ever as we continue to invest in a highly skilled workforce to win the jobs of the future and build Britain’s economic success.”

The Budget documents say that £150 million of the extra money to support university places and innovation will come from “reprioritisation”.

After the speech, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that the additional 20,000 places would comprise a range of full-time undergraduate, foundation and part-time places. Participating universities and colleges would be able to spend the extra cash on the costs of those places in 2010-11, as well as “invest-to-save” projects. The projects would find ways to make savings in order to cover the costs of the places in subsequent years, it added.

Universities will be invited to bid for a share of the funds. Within the £270 million payment, £20 million will be allocated to the Higher Education Funding Council for England for projects to “raise efficiency and value for money through the development of shared services, collaborative procurement and other innovative ways of cutting overheads and back-office costs”, BIS said.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

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