28th January 2020

Our university is a member of the University Alliance and is based in a city centre in the north of England. In 2016/17 it had a student population of over 33,000 students, of which just under 20% were postgraduates. In addition to generating and disseminating knowledge, one of its key objectives is to make higher education accessible and this has seen it recruit a high proportion of students from the local area.

The university comprises of five faculties which include arts and humanities, business and law, education, health, psychology and social care, and science and engineering. The largest of these faculties is business and law, which generates a significant amount of its income, recruiting nearly 3000 students in 2016/17.

Historically there has been no dedicated senior level student enterprise leadership within the university, with each faculty approaching enterprise in its own manner. There have been pockets of expertise, but usually at the local level. The university is renowned for its high proportion of placement opportunities, with each faculty having its own dedicated placement team. However, the increase in demand for three-year degrees has impacted on the percentage of students taking placements and the institution is looking for other means of improving employability amongst its graduates.

The institution is on the cusp of change in how it approaches student enterprise and entrepreneurship. It has been fortunate to date with recruiting UK/EU students, with applications greatly exceeding available spaces. Many of these students are drawn from the surrounding areas and often stay in the region after graduation. Senior leaders within the university have recognised that demographic changes and the pressures of performance measures through TEF, NSS and REF require significant changes in the student experience and offer.

This has thrown a fresh light on inter-disciplinary collaboration and enterprise. In looking for models for this change, they have looked closely at the Royal College of Arts and are looking to free up time in the curriculum to enable more enterprise and entrepreneurial activity and are seeing a far more strategic role for the incubator with a firmer handle on enterprise performance measures and income generation opportunities. It is looking to bring about this change over the next 6-18 months with the goal of every student, regardless of discipline, having enterprise education within their student journey. This has necessitated the university reviewing its academic workload and promotion arrangements.

The incubator falls within research and knowledge exchange within professional services. The incubator was originally established through funding from the ERDF, with the bid led by the business school (originally governance for the incubator was within the business school). The incubator provides support for students, graduates and the local community. It offers hot desks and office space for pre-start and early stage businesses, with a package of support, comprising of mentoring, workshops, networking and an entrepreneur in residence. This support is also available to students on an extra-curricular basis. The number of businesses supported by the incubator has grown three-fold over a ten-year period and it now supports over 100 businesses. Businesses within the incubator pay a nominal rental charge and are required to provide three days of support to students in the university. The incubator is self-financing and receives some HEIF money, it does not however pay university overheads. All money generated is returned to the incubator to fund for example the twice-yearly boot-camps which attract between thirty to fifty participants each time. Approximately 60% of the participants are students at the university.

The incubator does provide some support to in-curriculum enterprise activity, this is with individual academics across the university. It enjoys a strong relationship with the business school, with some business school programmes taught in the incubator, there is also support provided to the Young Enterprise offer within the university.

Within the business school are a number of departments, including a department responsible for enterprise teaching and research, and a team responsible for business and public engagement, who have a close working relationship with professional services, especially with the ERDF programmes focused on SME support and growth. In addition, within the business and public engagement team, there is also a dedicated Alumni and Mentoring team looking after the alumni function which not only looks after graduates from the university, but also business owners who have received support. This arrangement enables the university to retain the relationship with the business owner and this feeds back into the curriculum delivery through guest speakers and student mentoring.

There is a member of academic staff who leads on student enterprise within the business school. This is a recently developed role which has moved student enterprise from an informal activity to one that is increasingly formalised. The scope of the role is broadly defined but it focuses on both extra curriculum and in curriculum student enterprise. There is an increasing emphasis on the latter with attempts being made to validate and accredit student work in this area. The role holder also works closely with Young Enterprise and the university incubator. Enterprise education in the business school has moved from a discrete enterprise programme to the current plan to develop in-curriculum ‘enterprise opportunities for students across the business school. There are plans to offer a start-up stream to over 400 students from level five onwards, linked to the incubator.

Historically the business school has been involved in some inter-faculty enterprise support, however this was at the local level and arranged between individual academics. This collaboration included enterprise competitions and a structured and customisable series of modules. Inter-faculty student enterprise activity is now gaining more traction with the support of senior level leadership.

More recently the university has announced a plan to launch a term three initiative. The third term (April-July) in the academic calendar for undergraduate students is usually free of curriculum teaching and so the university wants to use this time to deliver a richer student experience, enhancing employability skills, bolstering grades and improving retention and progression. Delivery within the third term will be funded through institution wide top-slicing. The business school is viewing this as an opportunity to ‘bridge the gap’ between the close of term 2 teaching and the new academic year. Going forward, it is offering to populate the time with enterprise and entrepreneurial activities for students from across the University.

The following case study was provided to us as part of our ongoing look at how student enterprise is being supported by business schools at the university level. The business school featured in the case study has kindly given us permission to share it anonymously.