Where Greater Manchester leads, others will follow

Greater Manchester’s work towards an integrated technical education system has taken another exciting leap forward

Greater Manchester’s work towards an integrated technical education system has taken another exciting leap forward

25 Feb 2024, 5:00

On 15 February, a year to the day since Greater Manchester signed a landmark strategic partnership with InnovateUK to drive innovation in the region, InnovateUK unveiled a new Further Education Investment Fund. FEIF is a groundbreaking £7.5 million initiative to build capacity and capability in 33 colleges nationwide.

It is with great pride and excitement for the future that GMColleges was awarded £2.5 million of that funding to deliver the city-region’s ambitions.

Launching FEIF, Indro Mukerjee, chief executive of InnovateUK, passionately emphasised the pivotal role further education colleges play in driving innovation, citing their unique connection to local businesses and communities.

We agree. Having recently become engaged in the Greater Manchester’s innovation ecosystem as outreach delivery partners for the Centre for Digital Innovation led by Manchester Metropolitan University, GMColleges leveraged this experience to seize the opportunity presented by FEIF.

Our nine Greater Manchester general further education colleges united for a single collaborative bid, recognising the necessity of contributing to the ecosystem in a coordinated manner, rather than duplicating existing approaches or adding to confusion of provision.

We also aimed to introduce fresh and exciting elements that create new areas of activity and understanding for our sector and staff. 

Our unity of purpose and the creativity of our bid have been recognised, and we now look forward to delivering a comprehensive plan that we hope will be a model for other regions.

In each Greater Manchester borough, there will be a business innovation centre complete with a business innovation adviser and a local coordinator who will facilitate business community engagement. Our goal is to promote the adoption of new technologies and processes, aiding business growth and productivity. We will collaborate closely with the innovation ecosystem partners to bring expertise out of the centre into the boroughs and into businesses who can sometimes seem distant from business support programmes.

This opportunity is not just exciting for us but for the entire sector

Crucial to our project are four ‘innovators in residence’ who will offer sector-specific knowledge to all GM colleges, enhancing their FE staff capabilities through CPD, industry visits and advice on procurement of equipment. Each innovator in residence will be expert in one of Greater Manchester’s frontier sectors, as outlined in combined authority’s innovation plan: advanced materials and manufacturing, health innovation and life sciences, digital, creative and media, and clean growth.

A highlight of the Greater Manchester programme will be the creation and deployment of apprentice innovation ambassadors. This dynamic initiative will foster ‘innovation literacy’ among apprentices from all sectors, empowering apprentices to champion and support incremental innovation in their workplaces.

Through these apprentices, our aim is to demystify innovation and make it relevant to everyone, gradually building a movement towards decent work and increased productivity across the city-region.

This opportunity is not just exciting for Greater Manchester colleges but for the entire sector. With a team of 36 staff to be assembled over the next two months, our ambitious program embarks on a year of initiation and experimentation. In building the team, we will even test new ways of bringing knowledge and capacity into the colleges.

With initial funding and contracts for 12 months, these posts will suit people who are excited to break new ground, so we are open to full- and part-time employment, but also secondments, academic-sabbaticals and contract working.

Each day in this project is a learning opportunity, and we eagerly seek collaboration with partners to propel this knowledge into the future, solidifying further education colleges as vital partners in propelling UK innovation. We want partners to join us in shaping a new frontier of innovation, where each day presents a chance to contribute to something extraordinary.

Not for the first time in recent years, Greater Manchester is leading the way, not just in driving business innovation but in modelling that innovation through its own approach to meeting economic challenges.

At the heart of that approach is a genuine recognition of further education’s unique capability to bridge businesses and communities. The combined authority’s aim is to create the country’s first integrated technical education system. We hope this new stream of work will ensure it is far from the last.

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