The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has been an important source of funding for universities across the UK, enabling partnerships with local business communities and allowing universities to create impact from their research. But this year that funding runs out.

A measurable loss: The European Regional Development Fund as a catalyst for university-business collaboration, the latest research paper from the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), puts the ERDF under the microscope, exploring how universities have used it to create and maintain research and innovation activities that are driving local growth across the UK.

The top headlines of the report show:

  1. UK universities attracted £812 million in income from ERDF between 2014 and 2022, across 124 individual institutions.
  2. ERDF income was largely used by universities to engage with SMEs, improve R&D processes and infrastructure, support technology transfer, and enable entrepreneurship.
  3. ERDF income catalysed further university-business collaboration, with up to £7.53 of additional knowledge exchange income being generated for every additional £1 received by universities in ERDF income.
  4. Universities in Wales, the West Midlands, the North West and the South West received the largest share of ERDF income.
  5. ERDF was a particularly significant income source for small and medium sized universities, and Art and Design specialist institutions.

These findings pose important questions about how the UK higher education sector will be impacted by and respond to the loss of ERDF funding, and how the UK can capture the capabilities developed through ERDF-funded university projects and initiatives.

Through the autumn, NCUB will use this research to engage with its member universities across the UK to test their experiences against the findings of the report and to explore ways forward.

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the NCUB, said: “Our publication today shows that ERDF has historically been an important part of the UK university funding system, helping universities to build partnerships with local businesses and play a leading role in regional economic development. The analysis reveals that certain parts of the UK and certain types of institutions are at a greater risk of losing important capabilities as the funding comes to an end in the UK this year.

“NCUB will now engage with our members on this analysis and explore practical ways for the UK to capture the capabilities developed through ERDF funding, so that universities across the UK can continue to play a leading role in driving regional innovation and economic growth.”