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Rural academics win £1m to promote their work with rural business

Posted 28 June 2004

A consortium of 14 English Universities and Colleges, led by Harper Adams University College, has been funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to establish the National Rural Knowledge Exchange (NRKE). Funding from the Higher Education Innovation Fund has initially been given for 2 years, with a project life expected to be at least 5 years. The NRKE is one of 22 successful bids to establish ‘Centres of Knowledge Exchange Activity’, which have been recognised by HEFCE as centres of excellence in work between academics, businesses and the community.

The purpose of the National Rural Knowledge Exchange is to promote the development of the rural economy by using academic skills and knowledge to help rural businesses through advice, access to technology and innovative ideas. In addition, NRKE staff will lead collaborative business support projects, taking advantage of European, regional and national funding.

The project splits England into 4 regions, based on the areas of the 9 Regional Development Agencies. Each Region will have a Regional Rural Innovation Manager to bring together rurally-focused academics and businesses.

Central Lancashire, Harper Adams, Writtle College and the Royal Agricultural College are the lead organisations organising the initial setup of the NRKE, and their 4 regions and the partner Universities and Colleges are: The North: Central Lancashire, Newcastle and Hull Universities. The Midlands: Keele, Birmingham and Warwick Universities, and Worcester and Harper Adams University Colleges. The East and South East: Reading University and Writtle College The South West: Bournemouth, West of England and Gloucester Universities, and the Royal Agricultural College

The National Rural Knowledge Exchange will have eight staff to work with the partner universities, comprising a National Director, the four Regional Rural Innovation Managers, two information technology staff and an administrative systems manager.

The bid was co-ordinated by Eric Howell, Head of Business Services at Harper Adams. He explained that “Rural businesses and rurally-focused academics have much in common, no matter where they are in the country. The project harnesses the long tradition that rural people have of working together to share experiences. Through the NRKE, groups or individuals will be able to use the business enquiry e-mail service, gain publicity, promote their own events, get professional advice on funding, and talk to similarly motivated rural networks across the country”.

He added: “A lot of new initiatives have taken place in the rural economy, funded by Regional Development Agencies, DEFRA and others, and the NRKE service is aimed at making a complex national and local picture much easier to understand and access. We aim to make it easy to find out what events and services are available within local travelling distance of rural businesses. While the project will start with the initial 14 University partners it will also be open to publicise the work of other Universities, local Colleges and advisory services which can assist rural business. There is a lot of goodwill behind the project, as letters of support for the bid were received from over 30 organisations, including County Colleges, DEFRA and the Learning and Skills Council”.

Note to Editors

Further contact details: • Overall project issues and the Midlands Region, Eric Howell at Harper Adams. 01952 815281 • East and South East. Mike Hall at Writtle College. 01245 424248 • North. Alan Bean at University of Central Lancashire. 01768 863791 • South West. Simon King at the Royal Agricultural College. 01285 889873

• Funding will commence August 2004 until July 2006 • The Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) supports higher education institutions (HEIs) in knowledge transfer to, and interactions with, business and the wider community, for the benefit of the economy and society. It consolidates the third stream of funding initiated by the Higher Education Reach-out to Business and the Community fund (HEROBC). • Funding for the second round of the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF 2) was announced following the Government's 2003 White Paper, 'The future of higher education'. It continues and develops the work of the first round of HEIF, supporting interactions between higher education institutions (HEIs) and business, and between HEIs and the wider community. HEIF 2 also incorporates future activities based on current Science Enterprise Challenge and University Challenge initiatives in England. HEIF 2 therefore represents a consolidated third stream of funding, complementing core funding to institutions for research, and for learning and teaching. • HEIF 2 has been established as a partnership between the Department of Trade and Industry/Office of Science and Technology (DTI/OST), HEFCE, and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). • A total of £187 million will be available over the two years 2004-05 and 2005-06. This includes £46 million of additional resources from DTI/OST and DfES, above the levels implied by the combined spending of the two departments on this activity in 2003-04.

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