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The ECIF will enable universities and colleges to provide tailored training, development and professional support to vulnerable groups. The fund consists of £25 million provided by HEFCE with matched funding from institutions.

Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

'With the support of our employer engagement programme, HEFCE is already investing £148 million in higher education to increase capacity and capability to deliver workforce development activities for employers over the long term.

'The new initiative is designed to meet urgent and short-term economic challenges facing individuals (whether in work or unemployed), new graduates and businesses. We are looking particularly to help small and medium enterprises.

'Higher education has never been closer to business. The strong links developed over the past few years put universities and colleges in an excellent position to make a flexible response to current economic challenges at a time when it is vital that we continue to invest in enterprise and skills.'

Universities Secretary, John Denham said:

'Our higher education sector is well placed to support employers and employees get through these challenging economic times and prepare for the upturn when it comes. I'm pleased to see that HEFCE are responding by using their available resources to enable institutions to provide further help to deal with the consequences of the current economic climate and lay the foundations for the future.'

The scheme will provide the following help for individuals:

  • development and training for those in work to enable them to continue in employment rather than be made redundant
  • training and development for those newly unemployed to improve their chances of re-employment
  • support for new graduates to access advice, training and work experience.

For businesses and other organisations the scheme will provide:

  • skills training to manage the economic business challenges
  • access to knowledge and expertise which will improve business performance
  • training and development and support packages to business as a way of managing a shrinking business or as an alternative to redundancy.

The scheme looks to support around 50 proposals. These may consist of around 10 larger collaborative proposals supported by up to £1 million each in HEFCE's contributions; and 40 smaller proposals normally of up to £500,000 each from HEFCE.

The deadline for the submission of proposals is 27 February. Funding will be confirmed for successful proposals and activities will start in April.


Notes

1. More information is contained in the 'Economic Challenge Investment Fund - invitation to apply for funding', HEFCE Circular letter 03/2009 to heads of higher education institutions and HEFCE-funded further education colleges.