January 2009 | ref: Circular letter 03/2009
Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal
1. This letter invites applications for a new fund, the Economic Challenge Investment Fund (ECIF). The ECIF is intended to galvanise the resources and expertise of the higher education (HE) sector towards countering the impact of the economic downturn on individuals and employers. The deadline for responses is noon on Friday, 27 February 2009. We recognise that this deadline is quite tight, but this is in order to enable a rapid commencement of activities from April 2009.
2. The ECIF forms part of our employer engagement programme, which is investing £148 million in the HE sector to increase capacity and capability to deliver workforce development activities for employers (see HEFCE Circular letter 36/2008). Many institutions have established, or are seeking to establish, strategic relationships with employers to support development of their staff and longer-term business growth. Our programme is also enabling the HE sector to support professional development of public services and strategic developments aimed at the challenging small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) market. The ECIF also builds upon the infrastructure for knowledge exchange with businesses and the wider community supported through our Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF).
3. Recent unprecedented economic activity has created challenges to which the HE sector will be well placed to respond with a range of support. To facilitate a rapid response to the immediate needs of the economy we wish to provide via the ECIF £25 million of matched funding to the HE sector, to enable the delivery of tailored training, development and professional support to vulnerable target groups. This funding is available following a reprioritisation of our Strategic Development Fund investment, and will be for a fixed term (to September 2010) to focus delivery on activities that address the immediate needs of the economy. Our other investments in employer engagement and HEIF, mentioned in paragraph 2, focus on longer-term developments and outcomes.
4. The primary purpose of the funding is to enable the HE sector to support the following:
Public sector employers may also benefit, although we will require clear evidence of why they require support at this time.
5. We wish to provide flexible funding that will support diverse and innovative approaches that respond to the short-term economic challenges. Below we indicate the types of activity that could be funded, but this is not prescriptive and is not an exhaustive list.
6. Our expectation is that ECIF-supported activities will use existing capacity and capability to deliver training, knowledge and services for the specific types of target groups and businesses that higher education institutions (HEIs) and further education colleges (FECs) have identified as being in greatest need. We are looking for institutions to use their networks and partnerships to identify the needs of employees and employers in the communities they serve, and rapidly to respond to those needs. Below are examples of the target groups and type of activities that can be supported.
7. For individuals:
8. For businesses and other organisations:
9. In the current environment the ECIF aims to facilitate the swift development of course and support packages, and for institutions to be responsive to immediate needs at all levels of learning. Some businesses and employees may be more concerned about relevance of training to immediate needs than the longer-term benefits of qualifications. In such cases, the fixed-term funding being offered can be used flexibly to cover course and delivery costs, including for provision currently not supported through the mainstream teaching funding grant. Funding can also be used to support services such as support for graduate employment, which are not currently supported by our workforce development programme, although we will require evidence that such activity is undertaken beyond the existing and planned levels of such services. Similarly, we will require evidence that activities funded will be in addition to those supported through HEIF round four strategies.
10. In HEIs (and indirectly funded FECs) the funding may be used to support provision which is currently defined as non-fundable for mainstream grant purposes: for closed courses (meaning provision targeted at only one employer) and non-accredited provision. As funding being offered is primarily directed at benefiting individuals, we believe that activity will not constitute state aid to businesses. However, where institutions are working with businesses directly, institutions should satisfy themselves that their activities fit within state aid, taxation and Charity Commission regulations.
11. The funding could also be used to support activity which would usually be funded through additional student number (ASN) or co-funded provision funding. However, the funding will not be allocated on a recurrent basis.
13. We will provide development funding as follows:
14. We anticipate supporting around 50 proposals. We would hope to agree around 10 larger collaborative proposals of up to £1 million HEFCE contribution each, and some 40 smaller proposals of up to £500,000 each.
15. The funding is available to HEIs and FECs (directly and indirectly funded, through a lead HEI). Directly-funded FECs with fewer than 100 FTE HE students will not be eligible for ECIF support individually, but may submit a collaborative proposal with other FECs to reach the minimum 100 FTEs threshold. Due to the legal restrictions on our funding responsibilities for directly-funded FECs (see HEFCE Circular letter 22/2008), we can only consider proposals from them where:
16. The assessment criteria for the ECIF are:
17. HEIs and directly funded FECs are invited to submit proposals for funding. Institutions wishing to apply for funding should complete the template at Annex A below, and e-mail it to email@example.com by noon on Friday, 27 February 2009.
18. Proposals should not exceed the maximum length specified in the template. There should be no annexes except those for the purposes of Freedom of Information (FOI) (see paragraphs 24-27 below).
19. Up to £500,000 per proposal (£1 million for collaborative proposals) will be made available to institutions over the 18-month period from April 2009 to September 2010. There will be a single assessment process for all proposals.
20. Proposals will be assessed against the specific criteria for the ECIF. We will also take into account other factors such as the quality of the proposal, regional issues and institutional issues.
21. Following an internal assessment of proposals, our Chief Executive's Group will approve the allocation of funding to successful proposals at its meeting on 6 April 2009, and institutions will be informed by the following day.
22. The timescale for the ECIF is as follows:
|27 February 2009||Deadline for submission of proposals|
|March 2009||Assessment of proposals|
|7 April 2009||Funding confirmed for successful proposals and activities commence|
|September 2010||Funding period ends|
|December 2010||Final reports submitted|
23. All lead institutions will be required to submit a final report in December 2010 following the end of the funding in September 2010. We will also require interim reporting - a single interim report for smaller funding awards, and two interim reports for larger awards. We will provide further guidance on our requirements at a later date.
24. HEFCE is subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which gives a public right of access to information held by a public authority. This may result in applications, communications between us and the institution, information arising from this work, or the outputs from the work undertaken being subject to disclosure if a valid request is made to us. We will comply with such requests in accordance with the legislation and our own policies.
25. Institutions can, if they wish, provide potentially sensitive information (such as information relating to commercial interests) in a separate annex attached to the application form. This will highlight to us that there are concerns over disclosure. With annexes, the proposal must not exceed the maximum length as stated in the application template.
26. Where we consider it to be appropriate and practicable we will seek the views of applicants before disclosing this information. The applicant acknowledges that information provided in the annex is of indicative value only and that HEFCE may nevertheless be obliged to disclose this information. Our assumption will be that all information in the main application documents can be disclosed on request.
27. Further information about FOI can be found on the Information Commissioner's web-site.
Professor David Eastwood
|Enquiries should be directed to:||the relevant HEFCE institutional team|
Page last updated 12 March 2012