A multi-million-pound fund has been distributed to knowledge exchange projects at 20 universities in England.
The £10-million fund will support schemes that encourage students’ involvement with local businesses, communities and charities.
The funding was announced in October 2019 by then universities minister Chris Skidmore and has been awarded by the Office for Students and Research England. According to the universities regulator in England, the nation’s higher education sector generated over £3.7 billion from knowledge exchange activities and created over 3,500 graduate start-ups in 2017/18.
The OfS and Research England hope this cash injection will improve understanding of how students benefit from these knowledge exchange projects, and go some way to addressing issues of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).
At the moment, barriers to entry might stop disabled students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds starting businesses, finding work experience or participating fully in charity work.
One of the newly funded projects is a mental health partnership called Converge, run by York St John University and the NHS. Users of local mental health services participate in courses led by NHS staff and university students – now the project has extra funding, the university wants to research how the patients, staff and students benefit.
Director of Converge Nick Rowe said: “We are delighted with this opportunity to explore the impact that Converge has had locally on people who take part in the courses and on the students that run them. Since its inception in York in 2008 we have increasingly become aware of the enormous benefits that come from the project. Both from inviting people, who ordinarily wouldn’t have had that opportunity, into the university community, and the learning that our students gain from working alongside Converge participants.”
Some of the ideas they come up with might be the foundation for a new business, in which case the university’s Enterprise Team will help them deliver that
– Philip Clegg, University of Huddersfield
ICE+, a new competition proposed by the University of Huddersfield, has received £250,000 to match 750 innovative students with work experience opportunities in the next two years. Teams of students will be mentored while they design and pitch a business solution to a range of employers.
Philip Clegg, head of enterprise and entrepreneurship at the university, said: “External businesses and organisations within the local area will then be invited to come in and pitch real business problems to these inter-disciplinary groups of students, who will be coached in principles of innovation.
“They will also have some self-audit tools which will measure their entrepreneurial and enterprise mindset at the start of the project and also when they have been through the cycle working with businesses, so that we hopefully see some development of their key skills and attributes.”
The winning teams will be offered internships or placements and the programme’s outputs will be used to improve employer-led curriculum development.
“But we don’t want it to end with just one winner in each cohort,” said Mr Clegg. “Some of the ideas they come up with might be the foundation for a new business, in which case the university’s Enterprise Team will help them deliver that. Also, some undergraduate students taking part in ICE+ might decide that their ideas could be the basis for postgraduate research, leading to master’s or PhD degrees.”
The University of Sheffield will use the funding it received to create new work experience placements, which will help it understand how to encourage graduate entrepreneurship and opportunities in areas where there is social and economic deprivation.
The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) and the University of the Arts London will investigate how best to support the next generation of freelancers and self-employed creative graduates. The universities will invite external partners onto campus to encourage employers and students to share ideas and develop connections.
Dr Michelle Phillips, RNCM deputy head of undergraduate studies and principal investigator for the project, said the £900,000 fund would give the college “an exceptional opportunity to build on the amazing initiatives we already provide, such as the Entrepreneurship Award and the huge range of professional placements, and to introduce new content throughout our undergraduate degree.”