The first centre devoted to women in business in Britain is set to be opened at the University of Birmingham as female unemployment reaches its highest level in a quarter of a century.

The Women’s Business Development Agency has joined forces with the university’s business school to create the UK’s first academic unit committed to female enterprise and leadership.

It will be called the Centre for Women’s Enterprise and Leadership (CWEL).

The Women’s Business Development Agency previously claimed that there was an “urgent need” to get women ahead in industry with the number of females out or work running at a record high.

The centre will bring together academic research and practical training programmes to offer support to school pupils, older women facing redundancy from the public sector and those living in deprived areas across the West Midlands.

CWEL will also house an international advisory service for governments and other institutions on enterprise and leadership support for women in developing countries. This will include opportunities to join the university’s MBA courses.

And it will provide the UK’s first specialist support service for women graduates in life sciences, helping them to start and grow businesses in the sector.

Sally Arkley, director of the Women’s Business Development Agency said: “Female unemployment in the UK at its highest level for 25 years, which demonstrates the urgent need for services that can empower and assist women to succeed in business.

“The new centre will be underpinned by excellent academic research but will also focus on offering practical and successful programmes.

“We intend to work with groups who have traditionally not received support in business and entrepreneurship to raise both their aspiration to succeed in business and the skills to achieve that success.”

Plans for the first three years of the centre include creating a women’s leadership forum for the West Midlands, as well as offer mentoring, business support and leadership schemes to girls and women across the region.

This will include a programme called Off You Grow, which will offer confidence building and assertiveness training to schoolgirls in deprived areas, plus a project targeted at girls from African-Caribbean backgrounds.

Networking and business schemes are also to be set up for local firms run by Asian women.

A scholarship and exchange programme is also being set up for women in the developing economies, opening the door for them to take part in the university’s MBA programmes.

Susan Marlow, professor of entrepreneurship at the Birmingham Business School said: “We are excited to be launching a centre that brings together academic research with practical programmes for women.

“From the academic perspective there is a need to understand more about the role gender plays in entrepreneurship.

“Our new centre will also look beyond the UK to examine how ideas of female entrepreneurship can be applied in developing countries.”

Current students and university staff are also set to benefit from the opening of the centre, with one-to-one mentoring, business skills training and help in accessing finance.

It will also be home to the UK’s first specialist support service for women graduates in life sciences, helping them to start and grow businesses in the sector.

Professor David Dickinson, director of the Birmingham Business School said: “Birmingham Business School has a long history of using our academic expertise to assist business in our region.

“This new centre is designed to further enhance those links, offering help for a wide range of groups from raising awareness of business ownership amongst school aged children to bespoke support for entrepreneurs wanting to develop an already successful idea.”