Universities and businesses working together can really drive our economy forward. The closer the links between the two sectors, the more extraordinary and exciting the results.
A government-commissioned study on how higher education and business partnerships can boost growth and career development is under way, led by Sir Andrew Witty. It’s looking at how research expertise can be applied locally and nationally to create jobs and attract investment.
I’m all for working across boundaries, geographic and sector, to open the door to new ideas, larger contracts and new markets. Sharing an approach helps to solve knotty problems and compete effectively.
Universities teem with problem solvers, and business people understand the layers of commercial realities. Partnerships between them will succeed more easily if there is a willingness – even a relish – to develop new ways of doing business.
As more employers and employees become aware of universities’ open doors, flexible training and the relevance of higher education to their future confidence, partnerships and take-up from regional companies to universities is growing.
Investment for research and innovation at universities may tilt towards Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – but business-focused research is equally important to strengthen our competitive edge worldwide.
Rise – the international centre for research in innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship based in my faculty – has attracted global partnerships with leading businesses and organisations because it focuses on key aspects of business success: marketing, enterprise, leadership and professional practice, law and tourism.
The strong partnerships many big companies have built with universities, such as Sunderland has with Nissan, are increasingly mirrored by the great relationships between higher education and SMEs that are leading to placements, consultancies and research projects that transform prospects.
Business-savvy universities are dealing with companies at the highest levels and with the newest trainees to develop practical and research skills. They are busy in schools and colleges setting out the many ways people can study for higher level training, and working with local enterprise partnerships to target sectors for regional growth. Any review to boost these links is to be welcomed.
Professor Bernie Callaghan is dean of the faculty of business and law at the University of Sunderland