Reporter 444, 6 December 1999


HIGHER EDUCATION REACH-OUT TO BUSINESS AND THE COMMUNITY

This document sets out the University of Leeds' application for funding of £1.1 million over four years under HEFCE’s Reach-Out initiative (HEFCE Reference 99/40). We plan to use this funding to achieve long-run and sustainable reach-out improvements through an ambitious programme of related and integrated activities which will significantly re-shape the University’s interface with business. Our proposals centre upon structure, culture and knowledge management infrastructure. We specifically propose:

  1. to enhance our reach-out capability through a new team of industry sector specialists (Sector Development Managers);
  2. to run a comprehensive business appreciation and cultural development programme for academic staff;
  3. to support and develop our relationship with partners in business and industry by developing our unique Virtual Science Park capability to provide a knowledge based IT infrastructure.

These three integrated sets of activities grow directly out of the University’s Corporate Plan, which explicitly identifies the industrial and commercial sectors as key target constituencies and stresses the need for the development of long run industry-University partnerships. More specifically, the University’s strategy calls for the creation of a strong "third arm" of reach-out activity to operate alongside and to complement our traditional research and teaching missions.

The focal point for our HEROBC application is the accelerated development and expansion of the University’s Institute for Corporate Learning (ICL). The Institute is supported by core funding from the University and will provide a guarantee of the long-term sustainability of our proposed reach-out initiatives. The ICL, which is described in detail in this proposal, will provide both an organising and implementation focus for the proposed new activities and a vehicle for their effective management and monitoring.

The University of Leeds has a long and successful tradition of involvement in business and industry and our reach-out application seeks additional funding for a linked set of activities which will allow us to build upon the significant investments which the University has already put into place in this field. Funding under the HEROBC initiative will enable us to extend our activities more rapidly and to embed them more effectively than would be possible with our existing core funding alone. The proposed combination of external and internal funding will provide effective gearing to develop a programme with significant impact both inside and outside the University. Our application is also designed to operate synergistically with our programme under Science Enterprise Challenge.

UNIVERSITY-BUSINESS INTERACTION

Significant and on-going involvement with the business community is already well established at University of Leeds. Its importance is stressed in the University’s Corporate Plan and we can point to a wide range of successful activity. This encompasses an extremely broad field, including sponsored chairs and programmes; industrially sponsored research and consultancy; spin-out companies; student placements; training and development activity and many other partnership ventures. Significantly, in addition to the University’s large and successful Business School, the range of interaction with the business community reflects the extensive involvement of many other departments, schools and centres. Examples of relevant current activity across the University are given in Appendix A. It is upon this proven record of achievement and the clear evidence of commitment to reach-out activity that this application is built.

The HEFCE Reach-Out initiative is timely because, despite many successes, we nonetheless recognise that the opportunity and the need exists to develop and improve the ways in which the University inter-acts with business. This belief is based on both an awareness of areas where our current relationship with business can be improved and our growing recognition of the need to re-shape and develop the relationship to reflect the changing pressures and complexities which are now confronting the business community. These complexities can frequently be alleviated or resolved by the kinds of broadly based research driven expertise that a major university has the capability to provide. Certainly it is our belief that the University of Leeds, with its large scale of operation across all the disciplines relevant to modern business, has much to offer the business community in terms of knowledge transfer, education, training and consultancy support. Nonetheless it has to be said that, despite this apparent matching of industrial need and University capability, our own reach-out experience suggests that there remain important structural and cultural barriers which impede the easy and effective flow of knowledge and expertise between businesses and the University. We believe that the key issues can be summarised as follows:

Awareness.It is our experience that many University staff have only limited awareness of the needs of business and industry and the ways in which their own research and activities could offer solutions to commercial problems. It is equally apparent that many business organisations are often unaware of the many ways in which the work of the University has or could have relevance to their strategic and operational problems.

Access. Research has shown that business is increasingly adopting cross-functional modes of operation which often cut across the conventional disciplines around which universities are traditionally organised. Business colleagues report that they frequently find problems in identifying and accessing the relevant parts of the University, particularly where problems or issues that cross disciplinary boundaries are involved.

Attitude. The core missions of businesses and universities are sharply differentiated as are their reward systems. Academics are typically rewarded for long run excellence in research and teaching; business executives are more typically measured in terms of relatively short run, bottom line impact. There is thus considerable scope for misunderstanding, poor communications and a lack of alignment in objectives and perspectives.

Flexibility. The commercial environment places a premium on responsiveness, flexibility and speed of turn-round. Each individual business has specific needs and requirements and frequently seeks specifically tailored solutions. The traditional structure of universities and the increasing pressures on their staff frequently make it difficult to respond to these external needs.

Continuity. Our conversations with business colleagues lead us to conclude that business often sees university staff as somewhat project oriented – with more interest in discrete, one-off activities than in developing long-run partnerships. Relationship development and management are essentially long run activities which require frequency and continuity of contact and an understanding of the differing needs of different business sectors.

In short, while the University of Leeds can point to a good track record of success in reaching out to business, we believe that the leap from this threshold of success to a more significant and sustained level of effectiveness will require more radical and innovative initiatives which encompass both structural and cultural change. It was this conclusion that underpinned the University of Leeds’ decision in 1998 to set up an Institute for Corporate Learning. It was also the basis for our bid for funding under the Science Enterprise Challenge.

THE INSTITUTE FOR CORPORATE LEARNING

The mission of the University of Leeds' Institute for Corporate Learning is the development and maintenance of educational, training and research partnerships with the business community. It will be a centre of expertise in business links. The Institute has been located on the University’s Western Campus (within the new Business School building) and is designed to act as a focal point for the University’s wider business relationship. The University has allocated £328k seed-corn funding to facilitate the Institute’s establishment. This covers the operating costs of a small core staff. The Institute seeks to develop flexible partnerships with both external and internal constituencies. It is envisaged as interdisciplinary in orientation, with an emphasis on corporate learning and organisational renewal. The Institute is designed to engage in varied reach-out modes, from the delivery and implementation of activities by its own staff to introduction, facilitation and advisory work on behalf of colleagues in other departments.

Insights into reach-out.

Since its inauguration, the Institute has begun to explore partnership relationships with several local and national commercial organisations. Sectors include: finance (Yorkshire Bank); law (Dibb, Lupton); retail (Marks and Spencer); and manufacturing (Dewhirsts). This early series of interactions with business has generated important insights into reach-out activity. Firstly, we have found that the concept of the Institute has been well received. Businesses have indicated that they welcome the idea of an easy access channel into the University for the development of links to high-quality education, training, consultancy and research and to potential employees. We have also found a positive response at the extent to which work in the University has been shown to have direct relevance to commercial concerns and the strategic needs of business.

The second major insight relates to the nature of university-business interaction and its requirements. The Institute cannot achieve its objectives through the use of conventional academic staff alone. Relationship building takes time and requires considerable follow-through; it requires frequent contact and the ability to demonstrate a grasp of the business world and how it operates. Early Institute experience has also confirmed the importance of understanding the considerable differences between business needs in different sectors and business types (high vs. low technology; services vs. manufacturing; SME vs. multi-national company, and so on). Reach-out staff need to develop sectoral expertise as the basis for the credibility upon which a long-run relationship can be constructed. Additionally, businesses also require and expect flexibility from University staff. The development of this commercial credibility and ready availability do not sit easily with the research and teaching pressures that shape the work of academics. Our conclusion is that the expertise and professional skills of conventional academic staff must be backed up by new kinds of staff who, while able to relate to the academic environment and the concerns of academics, are primarily employed because of their industrial credibility and relationship management skills.

Our third insight concerns information technology. We see information and communication technology as having a vital and growing role to play in developing the University’s reach-out to business. We have also learnt, however, that partnerships rely heavily on personal contact, particularly in the early stages. We therefore envisage a mixed mode of operation in which initial contact by Institute staff builds the confidence and credibility upon which longer run IT-mediated relationships can be constructed.

Finally, we have learnt that a key reach-out constituency for the Institute is the academic staff base of the University. The ability of the Institute to help academic staff to understand the perspectives, mind set and priorities of the business community and to broker increasing interaction between the two worlds will be a key factor in long-run sustainable success.

It is this series of experience-based insights that underpin and shape the specific proposals for Reach-Out funding which follow. This funding will enable the Institute to move rapidly to a level of operation that delivers a significant and sustained improvement in the University’s reach-out capability.

REACH-OUT PROPOSALS

We seek to effect significant and sustainable improvements in the quality and quantity of the University’s reach-out activity. We will improve knowledge transfer and relationship development mechanisms. We will develop an internal culture that is more sensitive and responsive to industry needs. Our proposal is centred on a sectoral approach. A sectoral approach is used to answer the challenge of combining action on several fronts with a clear and integrated strategic focus that avoids fragmentation or duplication of other initiatives. We believe that our proposal successfully addresses that challenge. It has also been greatly strengthened by our extensive consultation with relevant national and regional bodies.

We have followed several guiding principles:

Strategic consistency and focus: our proposals are built around the distinctive strengths of the University and are designed to present an integrated response to the critical areas identified for reach-out improvement. We have avoided the temptation to attempt too much and to initiate too many projects.

Synergy: we have devised a programme which gains significantly from the prior existence of our Institute for Corporate Learning. More specifically, our proposals utilise and build on the ICL’s staffing and infrastructure. In this way we can achieve much better leverage and will exploit an established structure to direct and manage the HEROBC project.

Sustainability: we wish to create an improved reach-out impact that has the capability to be sustained over time. We have developed funding and support models that recognise this requirement.

Related areas of activity are linked through a sector-based approach (shown schematically in Appendix B). The cross-sectoral themes are business development; business appreciation and cultural change; and knowledge infrastructure. The supporting Business Plan (shown in Appendix C) is linked to specific targets and success measurement criteria (shown in Appendix D).

  1. Business development: staffing and structure
  2. Sector Development Managers

    We seek to recruit and deploy a new cadre of staff who can bridge the academic–business divide and provide an organisational focus for energy, activity and development. This initiative reflects our belief that the key to important improvements in our reach-out activity is to be found in personal relationships, sectoral grasp and industrial credibility. We have already commenced this process within the Institute for Corporate Learning by allocating internal funding for five staff. These comprise a Director, a Business Development Manager, a Contracts Manager, an Administrator and a Secretary. HEROBC will provide additional funding to build on that basic platform. We seek to recruit and deploy a small additional team of sectoral experts (Sector Development Managers, SDMs) which will give us the opportunity to provide a much more sharply focussed and targeted approach to industry and to achieve a critical mass in terms of reach-out staffing.

    Each sectoral programme will be co-ordinated by a SDM who will be responsible for linking the cross-sectoral themes and for communicating with business outside the University and to relevant departments within. The role of the SDMs will encompass both external and internal partnership developments. Externally, the role will be to build awareness of our reach-out capability through personal contacts; to develop relationships with key industrial constituencies; to effect market research into business needs and to seek appropriate University solutions to business problems. SDMs are likely to be relatively experienced and have a track record of working in or with industry.

    Internally, we see several key activities for the SDMs. They will need to liaise closely with ULIS, the University's technology transfer company, which has an existing £2M per year consultancy programme and can therefore advise on further development. Additionally, in tandem with ULIS, they will liaise with a range of relevant University departments to gain awareness of capability and work currently done and to transmit information relating to industry needs. The SDMs will in this way help to build on and develop a more industrially aware and supportive culture within the University. We also envisage that the SDMs’ will have a role working with students in relation to the development of industrial and other work placements and thus to extend and enhance our programmes to foster employable skills. The involvement of SDMs in the development of industrial awareness amongst our students and in facilitating and monitoring student placements will be a particularly valuable support to other planned activities which focus on the University’s culture.

    Project direction and management

    Project direction will be linked to the University's strategic and corporate management. The HEROBC Project Director will be Professor J E Lynch, Director of the ICL. He will report to the ICL Strategy Board and work closely with the ICL Advisory Board, which is chaired by a senior industrialist and has representation from the Vice Chancellor's Strategy Group and from external partners in the private sector. This will ensure close liaison with other initiatives and with the University's overall strategy in this area as well as enabling direct input and advice from local and regional business.

    We recognise the need for the effective day-to-day management of the proposed new sectoral team. This task will be incorporated into the job specification of the ICL Business Development Manager. We also recognise the need for appropriate administrative and secretarial support. We propose that the Institute’s Administrator be allocated this task initially, with HEROBC funding used for a specific support post as the profile of work develops.

    Location

    We will provide office space for the HEROBC programme within the ICL in the University’s new Business School building and we have the capacity to accommodate the additional staff proposed on a flexible basis. We envisage the HEROBC staff spending a high proportion of time 'in the field' and have discussed with the RDA the possibility of each member of the team having a second 'hot-desk' site. This would ideally be in a relevant centre of excellence attached to the Regional Innovation Strategy, which would facilitate networking with key industrial contacts.

    Target Sectors

    The choice of the specific sectors in which the new staff will work is a function of known University strengths and the needs and priorities of our local, regional and national partners. In developing these proposals we have consulted with major external partners and taken full account of their strategic plans and the sectors that they have specifically identified for priority action. We will continue iteratively to develop this approach with a range of such key players, including the RDA.

    Based on these agreed priorities, and taking into account the strengths and current initiatives of the University, we have identified the following first phase (this HEROBC application and ICL consolidation) and second phase (possible later applications and extension of programme) priorities. These build on sectorally orientated projects already in place: an effective Phase 0 platform from which HEROBC allows faster and more effective extension and development than we could afford if acting alone.

    Phase 0 Medical and Healthcare; Packaging (Faraday)

    Phase 1 (a) Financial and business services; Environmental industries

    Phase 1 (b) Textiles and design; Cultural, creative and media

    Phase 2 Materials; Food; other Manufacturing and Engineering

    The development of Phase 1 (b) is particularly informed by our current discussions with Bretton Hall, near Wakefield. The possibility of a joint programme and a closer relationship with Bretton would allow a particular emphasis to be created for reach-out in the cultural and arts-based industries. It would also support a rapid expansion of the design base within our Engineering faculty, starting in Textiles and disseminating from there with significant advantage to high technology engineering design in the Yorkshire region.

  3. Business appreciation and cultural development

While we believe that the work of the Institute and the Sector Development Managers will in itself prove a powerful force for raising awareness of industrial needs within the University, we also recognise the need for more specific and explicitly focussed activity in this area. Our Sector Development Managers will contribute to the cultural change programme in several ways:

Work-based placements - we seek to develop new sector-specific links based on our existing employability programmes. We have significant expertise in this area and see the opportunity to exploit the links built up by the work of the HEROBC SDMs to develop new placement schemes in the stated sectors of interest. In particular, we will seek to pursue a balance between specific professional and vocational placements (e.g. food science students in food laboratories; finance students in banks) and 'generic' placements. For both strands, we will seek to expand and improve our current provision to develop employability skills to ensure that students are properly supported before and during their placements

Mentoring schemes - we will develop a new mentoring structure associated with our expanded placement programme and supported by relevant training and development for academic staff. Through mentoring their students on placement, academic staff will increase their involvement with and understanding of business. This will feedback to their teaching and research and thus contribute to cultural change.

As a second step in this process, we plan to build on a £0.75M ESF funded pilot programme partnered with GE Capital. This programme involves project-based follow-ups that require University staff to act as mentors within supply-chain SMEs. This will allow academic staff to gain more experience of industrial requirements in a business area linked to their research. A third phase of mentoring would be the provision of advice to start-up companies in these sectors. In liaison with core ICL activity, this would make available to companies a cadre of experienced and subject-specialist advisors with a clear and credible track record.

Visiting Industrial Professorships - these would be on the lines of the successful model used by the Royal Academy of Engineering. The posts would be filled by high level executives from industry and commerce and would be focussed upon the development of heightened industrial awareness amongst University staff and students. A formal lecture and seminar programme and more informal initiatives and social interactions would achieve this. The evidence from the experience of implementing this approach in the School of Mechanical Engineering is that it can provide a valuable and very cost effective method for improving interaction and awareness.

Network development - we propose to develop a dynamic delivery mechanism linked to and extending proposals already made under the Science Enterprise Challenge, but with an appropriately complementary focus. Seminars on targeted themes will include a range of national and regional experts as well as making available the University's internal expertise in business specialist areas. The output from these seminars will be made available through the proposed Virtual Science Park (VSP) sector web-sites (discussed below) and the SDMs will arrange for additional information and links emerging from discussions at the seminars to be incorporated into the relevant web pages. Each web-site will also form the focus for on-going discussion groups following up each seminar, and this will extend the feedback opportunities as well as providing rapid dissemination of information.

Leeds' Woodhouse Group provides a track record of success in using this kind of context to promote University–industry interaction. The Group is a forum, usually in the form of a seminar and dinner discussion, where senior industrialists and University staff can meet. We will build on and develop this by the incorporation of a more specifically targeted sectoral focus, reflecting the work of the Sector Development Managers. Specialist nodes would develop as part of the substantive growth of this activity and build real opportunities for closer cultural awareness.

iii) Knowledge infrastructure for Reach-Out

We believe that any effective long run reach out activity should combine elements of personal contact with creative use of the support that information technology can provide. At the University of Leeds we have begun to develop a specialist understanding and expertise in the use of IT and knowledge tools to support the needs and activities of the business community. Our Virtual Science Park (VSP) is a unique facility that provides an on-line, web-based environment for its tenants. It uses a familiar physical metaphor as its interface. Clients rent "space" on the Park and set up a "tenancy" to support the development of their business. Our experience to date suggests that a properly designed and appropriately targeted knowledge infrastructure could significantly enhance our reach out capability by delivering the following benefits:

Our thinking here is guided by our specific experience on the PETIS (Packaging Executives Training and Information Service) project. PETIS is a consortium of universities, companies and trade associations dedicated to strategic visioning and scenario planning for the packaging and associated industries. It is linked to the White Rose Faraday partnership for Enhanced Packaging Technology which is working on the research needs of the industry at a national level. There is a PETIS tenancy on the VSP involving access to multi-media resources, group discussion forums and access to directories of expertise. What our PETIS experience has taught us is that the key to the effect use of IT in reach out activity is the need to create several enabling conditions. Any such system must be simple in concept and easy to explain to a busy target audience. It must be easy to access and to operate. It must deliver clear and rapid benefits and it must be precisely tailored to the need of specific target sectors.

We will therefore use Reach-Out funding to expand and develop specific business-support capability within the VSP. This will be achieved by the creation of more precisely targeted and sector orientated support systems that can be integrated with the work of our Sector Development Managers. Funding is required for development of tailored and sector-specific virtual platforms; for the setting up of appropriate knowledge systems; and for establishing an infrastructure that will ensure continuity of operation and trouble-free utilisation. One of the key tasks of the SDMs will be to maintain the currency and relevance of sites in relation to evolving business needs.

We will extend this virtual aspect of our reach-out activity to incorporate a virtual incubator unit for business start-ups. This would be linked to the opening in Spring 2000 of the University’s new £3m. Innovation Centre, a business incubator unit located on our Western Campus and adjacent to Leeds University Business School.

 

 

PERFORMANCE INDICATORS

We have proposed an ambitious programme to accelerate our reach-out activity. Our proposals encompass both short run and relatively specific initiatives, and longer-term projects that embrace cultural change. This inevitably means that the issue of performance measurements and the quantification of results is relatively straightforward in some instances and far more complex in others. For example, the work of our proposed Sector Development Managers lends itself to quantification in relation to activity levels, numbers of contacts made and projects initiated and completed. However, the quality and longevity of the relationships that they develop is somewhat harder to measure. Our Virtual Science Park enhancement programme offers a clear series of milestones and success benchmarks in terms of speed of completion and degree of utilisation. Its longer term value in relation to the personal network of contacts is again harder to measure. Equally, our Business Appreciation Programme seeks to engender long run change in attitudes amongst a wide range of stakeholders. For these reasons we propose to set up a regular programme of attitude monitoring which will examine the levels of satisfaction in the business community in relation to their interactions with the University. We will also monitor attitudes to business amongst our own academic community.

This twin track approach to formative evaluation is a realistic way to address the cultural change measurement dilemma. It will also deliver useful insights into the complex process by which cultural change is achieved. More detailed and specific criteria against which performance measures will be developed are set out in Appendix D. As we note there, the ICL Advisory Board and its commercial members will be invaluable in ensuring that effective quantitative thresholds are established.

COLLABORATION WITH OTHER HEIs

The Yorkshire and Humberside Universities Association (YHUA) was established by the Vice-Chancellors of the 10 universities in the region in 1993. This early start has enabled Yorkshire and Humberside universities to be amongst the leaders in higher education collaborative working, and to build upon this to work closely and strategically with Yorkshire Forward, our Regional Development Agency. YHUA universities have shared the key priorities in our Reach Out applications, with each other and with Yorkshire Forward, to ensure that our activities are complementary, and that we are meeting key regional needs. We are also participating in a joint YHUA application for a project to link our collective business support activities with the RDA, to increase the regional impact of our individual applications

CONCLUDING COMMENT

Because of the scale of the University’s operations and the ambitious scope of our proposals, we seek the maximum funding available under the Reach-Out initiative.

Our proposals have been discussed with our HEFCE Regional Consultant and with the Regional Development Agency.

These proposals have the full support of the Vice-Chancellor and the senior management of the University.

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