University of Salford

University of Salford

Industry focused, research informed

The University of Salford’s Industry Collaboration Strategy is leading the way in real world experiences, solving business problems and preparing students for life in the workplace. Suzy Jackson finds out why the university is going the extra mile.

A team of experts in university-industry partnerships has been brought in by the University of Salford, to drive a central strategy on Industry Collaboration Zones, increasing the impact of research and innovation and helping graduates into work.

Professor David Spicer is the Dean of Salford Business School, and Mike Brown is one of those recently recruited experts. “As a university,” David begins, “we have a single strategic priority around industry collaboration, and in terms of driving our agenda forward, we’re building exceptional partnerships with industry.

“Salford’s heritage is very much in that space; we’re an institute born of the first industrial revolution. Our focus and approach today ensures what we do is as well connected with industry as it possibly could be.

“There are some obvious benefits’ from a student perspective, they get programmes of study which are practical, applied, and relevant that are linked to careers in a meaningful way, where we’re building the skills base that they need to succeed.

“But also, from a partnership perspective with industry, it’s about that model of co-creating and co-developing so that in terms of being innovative, those partnerships are a big part of driving what we do.”

“The term ‘industry’ is very generic,” chimes in Mike. Now director of the engineering and environments industrial collaboration zone, he was formerly the director of mainstream engineering global academic programmes at Siemens. “Most people attribute that word to manufacturing, but it’s the marketing industry, the medical industry, the media industry… so the term industry collaboration and partnerships addresses all aspects of industry.

“Before Salford became a university, we were delivering the ‘sandwich course’ 70 years ago, that had both academic and industrial experience built into it. That has significant benefits for the students and the employers that we work with – students have work-ready experience, so that when they graduate they have more than just a pure academic background; they have knowledge of, and experience in, the fields of careers they might want to go into.”

Now, the University of Salford is focussed on working with organisations that want to develop a mutually-beneficial partnership. “For example,” Mike says, “we’re looking to work with an organisation in the North West who’s looking to build a new garden, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). We have a very good relationship with them; we understand their goals for what’s going to be one of the country’s best horticultural gardens, and we’re working with them to understand what their needs are, now and in the future.”

The partnership sees the RHS provide students with live briefs, on anything from performance art pieces, to full multimedia research projects. “They’re working on a memories project – people in the community are talking about what their memories are of this old garden, and students are doing everything from writing, through to broadcast media where they’ll be filming and editing.”

Students regularly have the opportunity to work on real-life projects for a real-life customer, who will be critical of their work, and expecting them to fulfil commercial deadlines and work to set quality standards. But that gives them so much when it comes to their careers and employability.

“If we have a student who’s been responsible for filming and editing,” Mike says. “When they go for an interview for a job, rather than saying they did some projects where they put together a theoretical piece, they can say they did a commission piece for the RHS where they got proper, hands-on experience. We’re trying to offer that for each course.”

Students“In the business school,” David adds, “we have HR students working with Salford City Council, on some of the workforce challenges they have and feeding advice into that; we’ve got students on our digital business and digital marketing programmes working in a range of digital businesses and marketing firms locally on a live project brief, working on real business challenges.”

There are a lot of preconceptions in industry about how it is to work with university students, with businesses afraid they’ll be expected to ‘babysit’ the young people who join their teams. But that’s far from the case, Mike says. “When we start to describe the structured approach we’re taking, where they’re getting support from the university, and that they’re prepared and they’re adding value to the organisation, we’re finding that people are willing to test it.”

And after they’ve done one live brief, many progress to pursue other projects. “We’re trying to go ‘beyond the Power Point’ – so instead of the marketing pitch where we say we work with industry, we’re trying to do it and demonstrate the value-add, from larger organisations down to very small companies, so that these organisations think – well, I can work with the University of Salford, they listen to what we want. “

They’re trying to integrate some of their experiences into the curriculum – so it’s not the ACME engineering company who want to develop a new anvil to drop on Road Runner, it’s a real company, with a real challenge, and the students are presenting to a real organisation.

“I was at a computing event where a bunch of students had done some programming for businesses; one was from Holland, and had flown over to hear their presentations. Some students hadn’t quite got it, but others had really risen to the challenge and the firms thought it was brilliant. And it helps those companies build a strong pipeline of talent,” Mike adds.

They also offer the opportunity for students to do a short internship, rather than a formal dissertation as part of their studies. “Instead of going to the library and writing another book review,” David says, “they go and spend time in a business, working on a challenge that business has identified.

“That’s an extended interview process for students, whether it’s in that organisation or not. But to make that work, we must be more innovative and flexible with our business model, moving out of the traditional university model of starting in September and finishing in May. The demand is year-round, so every quarter we have a new batch of students coming through, and we’re brokering in the industry partners we’re working with to line them up for those projects and opportunities.”

Unlike some other notable universities, the University of Salford has taken the decision to be informed by research, rather than focussed on it. “We do some phenomenal research here,” Mike points out, “but we’re research informed, industry focussed. So, we want to make sure everything we do is relevant to industry.

“We’ve proven this works with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue. Most people think firefighters will get heat exhaustion, but the people who get the most heat exhaustion are actually the trainers. They’re working with the trainees, three or four times a day and getting more exposed than those who fight real fires. Our students are getting involved in projects to combat this, and it’s posing real value not just to those who get involved, but also to Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue.”

David feels it’s about being innovative and entrepreneurial in their approach, as well. “We need to operate outside of the normal bounds of the traditional academic model and make that relationship much easier as a consequence. The constraints of university no longer apply, so if we’re talking to an industry partner and they want a project doing in a particular timescale, we make that happen – it may sound trite, but from a university perspective, that’s a big shift in mindset.”

And when it comes to innovative businesses, and innovative solutions, the students are uniquely placed to offer a fresh perspective. “We invest quite heavily in supporting that mindset in our students, so a lot of those projects are challenge projects. They don’t have any received wisdom – they don’t say ‘it won’t work because it didn’t work last time’ or ‘that’s not how we do things around here’.”

On his move in to the university from Siemens, Mike thinks that they’re somewhat guilty of hiding their light under a bushel where their facilities are concerned. Specifically, he cites their ‘energy house’ – “We have a house built inside a building, and we can subject that house to different climates, testing everything from under floor heating, smart home technology. That facility is unique, globally. Students see that, and their minds start firing.”

And their acoustic laboratory: “We’re recognised globally as a leading lab for noise vibration and harshness. And students see industry collaborating with us, and again, their minds start firing.

“It’s core to what we do at the university.”

Very proud of their position in Salford, and Salford as a region as it goes through a massive renaissance, they say that you wouldn’t recognise it from ten years ago – just over the river from central Manchester, it’s one of the greenest campuses in the UK.

“We want to be working with innovative businesses,” David states. “We have a model which we know works, is very flexible and responsive, and can add value for us and our students, and for the partners we’re working with. And Mike concludes: “What we want industry to realise is that we want to build a mutually beneficial partnership, no matter what they’re looking for – we’re flexible, agile, and keen to work with you!”

Siemens staff learn at Saldord

SiemensA group of engineers from Siemens are studying on a specially designed University of Salford course aimed at tackling critical skills shortages.

Designed in a partnership with Siemens to meet a growing skills gap in industry, the BEng (Hons) Control and Automation degree has a flexible delivery model to suit industry needs and minimise time off the job. It includes content developed and delivered by Siemens, as well as expertise and knowledge provided by Salford academics.

The course is being run as a pilot, but can be offered as an apprenticeship to businesses across the sector and funded through the Apprenticeship Levy.

Jason Phin, training solutions business manager at Siemens DF PD, based in Didsbury, South Manchester said: “We have looked at ways in which our apprentices can study through to degree level whilst also combining the academic content with industry relevant qualifications.

“This course should provide key skills beneficial to industry and mean that engineering teams from Siemens, our customers and suppliers can add more value to their business. It’s great that the course has been tailored to exactly suit what we, and hopefully other engineers are looking for.”

Jayne Parker, field service engineer at Siemens in Manchester, is part of the first cohort. She said: “I’m always keen to update my skills and move my career forward so this is a great chance to do just that. I’m looking forward to getting started.”

Dr Sam Grogan, pro vice-chancellor student experience at the University of Salford, said: “This is a key part of the strategy for the University of Salford going forward. We want to work closely with businesses to co-develop courses that work to specifically target the needs of industry.

“It’s quite a novel approach to work so closely with an industry partner to develop the actual content of a course and this is a great example of an innovative learning model developed through our Industrial Collaboration Zone project.”