The £20m facility at the University of Gloucestershire encompasses Gloucestershire’s flagship Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) Growth Hub and forms a key part of the University’s 2022 Strategic Plan. This includes the development of an iconic Design Centre, improved facilities for new nursing and paramedic science courses, and enhancement of the 65-acre Oxstalls Sports Park.
Just over 1,700 students have begun their studies in the business area of the School’s new ultra-modern building, which incorporates the business development department – ‘University in Business (UiB)’ – and a business incubation centre, Thompson Reuters trading rooms and a moot courtroom. The building’s equipment is on a par with corporate headquarters and is available for hire by external organisations.
After a soft launch, the School has become a bustling centre of activity for teaching and learning in subject areas covering Business Management, HR, Entrepreneurship, Accounting and Finance, Law, Marketing, Events and Hospitality Management.
The technology centre is home to an additional 750 students at the University’s Cheltenham Park Campus, which specialises in computing and engineering, as well as hosting a state-of-the-art cyber security facility, which acts as one of the university’s major USPs given the nearby presence of GCHQ and the county’s burgeoning reputation for excellence in fighting cybercrime.
All of this results in a busy work schedule for Head of School Professor Kamal Bechkoum and his team, who are determined to establish Gloucestershire as a leading force in business and technology, as well as delivering expertise that will open doors to business and provide students with crucial industry experience.
Kamal explains: “We have a huge opportunity to benefit our students and businesses in Gloucestershire, which is a highly affluent and productive area, but suffers from a significant skills shortage. Working with businesses locally has to be a key part of what we do and the School of Business and Technology has a mission to inspire learning and support growth through partnerships with established industry.”
“As well as educating students,” he continues, “the School’s cultural purpose is to act as a place where we are removing the barriers that can sometimes exist between higher education and business. There are around 150 business schools in the UK and, in many senses, it’s a massively oversupplied market, so you need to prove yourself to be competitive and offer something different.
“Many business schools are driven by a big weighting on research to earn revenues and raise universities up the league tables. This is an important motivator but it’s not our primary goal. We do engage in research of international excellence with the aim to enrich the student experience so they can become successful. That’s why we’re offering a more hands-on approach that will help students answer the key questions: ‘Why do I want to go into business?’ and ‘Why would I want to set up my own business?’”
The School is building on solid foundations in this respect and has already invited company directors onto campus to discuss the services it offers and to take advice on how to develop its curriculum further through a series of events which have so far focused on cyber security, construction and accounting and finance.
Visitors seem to be valuing the approach. Haley Coombs, Sales and Marketing Senior Manager at Coombs MF Freeman, said: “As a family business, we’ve been going for 50 years and we’re always trying to come up with innovative ways of working. We’d really like to get involved with the University’s students to benefit from new and different ways of thinking. I’m interested in bringing our issues to the University to help us solve them, and working on live projects sounds like a really good idea.” Kamal is thrilled that his plans are meeting with such an encouraging response.
In the era of cyber and digital skills, the University of Gloucestershire is leading a work-package on ‘Educating the Educators’ in this increasingly important sector as part of a select group of 17 higher education institutions nationwide which are part of the National Institute of Coding.
The University also has a principal role in discussions to shape the Cheltenham Cyber Park, working with other universities and businesses such as Raytheon, BT, Lockheed Martin and IBM. The proposal is to create a new facility alongside GCHQ that will act as a centre of excellence and further capitalise on Gloucestershire’s strengths in this subject.
This high-tech, fast-moving industry approach is intended to help attract professionals and support the retention of young people in the county by offering new training, upskilling and business development, as well as research partnerships and links with centres elsewhere in the UK and internationally. The main challenge will be how bold and ambitious this concept can become.
Kamal continues: “It’s unique that we have the LEP Growth Hub within the School of Business and Technology complex. Here we can get them to associate with real business immediately because everything is in the same building.
“Businesses of all different kinds and sizes face similar challenges, regardless of whether it is productivity, HR or cyber security. This is particularly true in this digital era and we have to adapt our models to new ways of working. That said, the skills agenda cannot be left to academics alone to sort out and this remains a major challenge. We’re talking to businesses daily to stress the value of working together to ensure the development of the talent that will be needed in the coming years.”
At every opportunity, the School is stressing the availability of its expertise and intellectual capital to help businesses become more productive and competitive. “For example, if a company wants to make their HR procedures more efficient, improve productivity, keep safe online – these are all issues we can support,” adds Kamal.
“We have teams ready to work with business, but we don’t pretend to know it all. We have some of the answers, along with a large network of academic and commercial partners who we can tap into.
“In industry the issue is not ‘Would you like to do nice things for our students?’, it has become a more direct ‘How can we help you grow your business?’ Done in the right way, we can develop our students by helping business, whether it’s by providing a degree apprenticeship, supporting recruitment, or putting an organisation in touch with a Knowledge Transfer Partnership.
“If a small business wants to develop their people into leadership roles, they can go to our Growth Hub reception and connect with one of our business navigators. If the challenge is around corporate leadership, we now offer an honours degree-equivalent through a Chartered Management apprenticeship, or a master’s apprenticeship programme in senior leadership.
“The choices are all there – we simply need to get the message out and say ‘there are opportunities here’. This is a big issue for us – we want our graduates to go on to good jobs here and this is one of the most important contributions we can make to the economy of Gloucestershire and beyond.
“Our School is now better prepared than ever to work with the business community, and I make no apology for wanting us to be known as the centre for business and technology that listens to an organisation’s needs and then works hard to find the right solutions for them and our students.
“My message is that UK higher education needs to be proactive in understanding the needs of industry. We must get out there to engage with prospective partners on the issues that matter most to them. This proactive approach leads to growth of both businesses and graduate employability, which in turn is good news for the economy as a whole.”
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