Professor Steven Kyffin

Professor Steven Kyffin

Why work with a university?

Knowledge Exchange can be a powerful driver for growth and innovation. Professor Steven Kyffin, Pro Vice Chancellor
(Business and Enterprise) at Northumbria University, Newcastle, believes a culture of two-way sharing between businesses and the higher education sector is key.

Creativity happens when business organisations and universities collaborate in an equal exchange of ideas, knowledge and skills. Partnerships with universities can help businesses innovate, develop their people, support growth and productivity, and manage change. At the same time, businesses can inspire universities with real-world experience, help fund relevant research, and enrich the student experience through placements and ultimately good employment opportunities. Successful relationships lead to new and better ways of doing things, creating wealth, jobs and greater economic and social prosperity – all to the benefit of society as a whole.

At Northumbria, we have a strong record of knowledge exchange, with partnerships extending to national and local government, social, public, private and cultural sector organisations. We collaborate in areas including research and development (R&D), innovation, enterprise and entrepreneurship, people management and skills. Many years of engaging with businesses have also taught us how to make working with a university easy and accessible.

R&D is a one of a few key cornerstones that underpin sustainable growth for the nation. Without it, we fail to address the productivity agenda and lose competiveness in a global market – something which is focusing minds right now. Budget pressures can of course limit investment in R&D, slowing progress and leaving companies at a disadvantage to their rivals.

Knowledge exchange and talent development programmes with business-focused and research-rich universities like Northumbria can address these challenges – again value to both parties. Practical help with, for example, research-funding applications can also be provided.

To ensure our research is as ground-breaking and focused as possible Northumbria has invested in a number of multi-disciplinary research themes, which draw together areas of disciplinary strength to tackle problems of global significance. As well as attracting top researchers from around the world, the development of these themes has also delivered major increases in grant awards – all of which can have a direct benefit for our partners. The themes cover a broad range of disciplines including health and life sciences, social sciences, engineering, environment, humanities, innovation, digital and creative disciplines. An interesting example is the Environmental and Global Justice theme – good stewardship of the Earth, including how best to manage the triple bottom line for sustainability; profits, planet and people.

Innovation and knowledge exchange can also be facilitated though our consultancy programme by offering organisations analysis, interpretation and advice on both current and future issues, by academic colleagues and their teams. Available as individual subject specialists or multi-disciplinary groups, their expertise can cover everything from business strategy to complex technical issues. We have worked closely with organisations in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods sector or the increasingly important Internet of Things. Our academic colleagues have collaborated in the financial services sector, helping providers respond to challenges such as life planning, especially for the vulnerable. Nutrition researchers have focused on the early years, vitality and active life, and ageing, helping organisations develop interventions around preventative and curative care. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships also allow businesses to innovate and grow by linking them with a leading university academic and a high quality graduate to work with them on a specific project or problem.

STEMAlong with investment in R&D, the success of any organisation depends on the quality and skills of the people who work there, how motivated and engaged they are and whether they feel valued. This is why people development and talent management is another key aspect of our collaboration. Support includes a wide range of short courses, continual professional development (CPD) opportunities, executive coaching and specialist training. Grounded in practice and informed by research, the courses are taught by academics who are experts in their field and have extensive industry experience. They are also innovative. In just one example, a fast track nursing scheme introduced recently for those with healthcare experience was a first for a UK university.

Northumbria was among the first universities to offer higher and degree apprenticeships, investing up to £240,000 to develop our programme. Degree apprenticeships are a key strand in the Government’s skills strategy, and are open to new recruits and existing staff. All businesses have access to degree apprenticeships, but larger organisations with an annual payroll of more than £3m are required to pay an annual levy set at 0.5% of the payroll. The introduction of higher and degree apprenticeships, and the levy, has caused many if not all organisations to look again at their people development strategy. Our approach has been to collaborate closely with our partners to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Universities are of course also there to provide organisations with a pool of talented recruits. Partnerships help us understand what employers are looking for and we work hard to ensure graduates are work ready with the relevant skills. Student internships and placements, and graduate internships, can play an important role in this. In many cases funding is available to help recruit new employees – something we know can make all the difference for smaller businesses and start-ups.

I have touched on some of the core ways universities like ours can work together with businesses and support their growth and development plans. Universities also have a role to play in social engagement. This can include how universities communicate the results and value of their research to communities around them, and to wider society, rather than just with academic peers. The focus on making sure research has a positive impact is central. Moreover, social engagement means involving communities around universities to help us prioritise the areas of research our academics undertake. If universities have been viewed as remote from wider society in the past, this is much less so today. Research can cover many areas, but the need for it to be relevant, valuable and to take on real-world issues is paramount. This is certainly the case at Northumbria. We are ready to work with our partners, our communities and with wider society on the issues which matter and in a mutually beneficial way.

For more information on how to work with Northumbria, please visit