Reaching out to the wider world

Now that REF allocates 20% of ratings to 'impact' factors, HE has an incentive to build links with the outside world

Ironically, it is the humanities, traditionally the old subjects, the major part of Western education for over two millennia, that may struggle the most, with other parts of academe – the social and physical sciences and professional studies – reaching out with greater ease.

A conversation with two people inside and outside academia shows the pace of change. Dr Tom Crabbe is Director of External Discovery Solutions at UCB, a biopharma focused on severe diseases with operations in approximately 40 countries and global revenue of €3.4 billion in 2012. Stephen Partridge is Head of Media Production at Buckinghamshire New University, a university with a mission to provide the very best in applied knowledge to its students. How does the brave new world of Impact appear from their different positions?

According to Dr Crabbe, new consortia are developing across the industry/ HE sectors with the realisation that the early ideas generation phase of research can be critical and having top academic brains feed in ideas helps ensure that the often high levels of investment needed in the late stages of research are well spent. Involving academia is opening up the pharma toolbox especially since having a big research department is not feasible even for the big guns of the industry. 

With a degree of excitement, he describes how the relationship between industry and academia is one of open innovation which necessitates an environment that is not constricted by excessive legal or commercial constraints. The result of the industry/academia crossover is, in Dr Crabbe’s words ‘ever greater reliance on consortia to help run the drugs pipeline’. 

Over in academia and in a different discipline – that of film, audio and animation – Stephen Partridge, Head of Media Production at Bucks New University, has his hands full dealing with the demands coming from industry. ChyronHego, for example, a global leader in broadcast graphics creation, playout and real-time data visualisation, developed a relationship with the University that has resulted in many of its BA (Hons) Film and Television Production graduates working for them either full-time or on a freelance basis. Its work ranges from Premier League football broadcast by Sky Sports to the Grand National and other racing from Aintree, and Premiership Rugby for BT Sport to Formula 1 coverage on Sky Sports. 

Helping to boost long-term employability, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) offered 25 internships to Bucks New University at the London 2012 Olympics, and Reading and Watford football clubs have both offered student placements, many of which have been remunerated, and six of which led to offers of work last year. Over 20 internships moreover were available through VCCP, the advertising agency behind brands such as O2 and Nokia and campaigns such as Compare the Market. Seven Bucks New University graduates have now landed full-time positions as filmmakers via the internship programme at VCCP. 

It is not just employment prospects that are affected but teaching as well. Liaison with companies such as Centroid, for example, a world leader in motion capture, has helped develop the University’s animation course, a well-established model that guarantees the currency of the academic curriculum as well as the enhanced employability of Bucks graduates, a benefit to graduates and industry alike. Similar relationships have been developed with broadcast partners such as Deltatre and Vizrt and there are also many instances were staff and students in the School of Media Production and Performance carry out filming work for organisations. Over the last three years, the roll call of clients includes such household names as Sennheiser, the BRIT Awards, Solid State Logic, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Burnley FC, the Greater London Authority, Pitney Bowes, Alpine, BMW, and an array of NHS trusts and partners and the BBC.  

As Partridge says: “It is our duty to link with industry in meaningful ways.” For an applied university such as Bucks, the logic is compelling. “A University with an applied focus should be delivering experiences, the most engaging of which involve students from different courses working with clients from outside,” added Partridge. For example, the work involved in a typical outside broadcast for the BBC or Watford FC will bring together students involved in film (filming and editing); audio-music production and  animation (production design and creation of broadcast graphics), bringing subject-specific and team-working benefits. 

So, universities have come a long way since the days when the humanities dominated university curricula. Lord Mandelson, when Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, laid down the challenge when he said in 2009 that ‘Universities are not islands; they are not ivory towers, they have to respond to the world around them’.  

Of course, opportunities to engage in commercial activities vary drastically across disciplines’ (Ylijoki, 2003), with a recent report by Professor Alan Hughes of Cambridge University in 2011 showing that the majority of research in the arts and humanities is in the areas of problem-solving and community-oriented activities rather than patented/licensed research (https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/exploding-the-ivory-tower-myth). The snapshot of activity spearheaded by Dr Crabbe of UCB and Stephen Partridge of Bucks New University are shining examples of the range of forms that this activity can take. 

Gloria Moss is Professor of Management and Marketing at Bucks New University and Visiting Professor at the Paris School of Business.

Picture: Students at Bucks New University filming a monthly programme, ‘The Hornets Show’, for Watford Football Club.