CEO Blog: Working with business - boosting success

04 May 2016

The UK economy requires a modern accomplished workforce to meet a range of skills gaps in key sectors. Modern universities have a long tradition of working with industry and the not-for-profit sector to fulfil specific needs, with many having decades of experience. Today modern universities are pioneering a variety of employer-university partnerships.

The government’s commitment to apprenticeships is to be commended, however universities are already playing a key role in professional, technical and vocational learning, a role that has genuine scope to grow. One in ten students has their degree sponsored by an employer but that number could be higher, and at around one sixth of the cost of a typical degree, they are good for students and good for business.

By co-designing programmes of study, employers can ensure that learning meets identified skill gaps and fulfils the specific needs of business. Additionally, by engaging with universities through work-placements or industry-led courses, employers can benefit from a ready-to-work graduate supply and students can broaden their networks giving themselves the best possible opportunities to achieve the career they want.

Just one of many examples is found at Southampton Solent. The university has a long-running partnership with the Merchant Navy Training Board and the Marine Coastguard Agency, so its foundation degrees in Marine Operations and Marine Engineering match their needs, both on the dry land of the classroom and during practical training at sea.

Co-designing is also an option for employers seeking to develop their continuing professional development offer. The University of Bedfordshire’s Business School works closely with employers to develop bespoke Corporate Executive Leadership Learning programmes that are then co-delivered by the employer. Designed to open the door to a Postgraduate Certificate in Management and, potentially, an MBA, assignments use real workplace situations directly useful to both employer and employee.

Modern universities also have a long and proud history of working with the public sector, delivering programmes that meet national and local needs, helping to tackle shortages in the national infrastructure, particularly in the healthcare sector. Today, almost three quarters of all nursing students study at a modern university as do the same percentage of medical technology students, which includes radiographers and cardiographers. Overall just under two thirds of those studying subjects allied to medicine do so at modern universities.

Sponsored study is another option for employers. For instance, Transport for London, in need of degree-level quantity surveyors, boasts a scheme in which they meet all study costs and employees are paid to work while they learn. Employees train on the job four days a week, and spend the other studying for their degree in Quantity Surveying at London South Bank University. Qualifying in four to five years, students benefit as each style of learning enhances and informs the other.

In the private sector, IBM, Unilever, Capital One and Bloomberg, among others, have taken advantage of the sponsored study model at Anglia Ruskin University. One course, co-designed with CNet Training, is tailored to the needs of the data centre industry, funding staff studying for an MA in Data Centre Leadership and Management, the highest qualification available in that field.

Sponsored, co-designed and co-delivered courses are broadening and deepening engagement with employers and industry. There are many other ways universities are developing their offer to prepare students for employment. Work placements, such as those available to all undergraduate students at Leeds Trinity University, offer students valuable experience of the workplace, building networks and preparing them for their career.

The government’s stance on vocational and technical learning is admirable, but as MilionPlus Chair Professor Dave Phoenix recently noted, “Ministers must ensure they complement rather than disrupt existing Employer Sponsored Degrees.”

In the next few days we’ll be highlighting examples of modern universities working with private and not-for-profit enterprise to deliver sponsored, co-designed and co-taught provision.