Birmingham boost for students to work with business and communities

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Students will contribute to overcoming business challenges.

The University of Birmingham will receive funding from the Office for Students (OfS) and Research England for a new project that partners postgraduate students with West Midlands organisations to share knowledge and skills beyond the academic community.

The Postgraduate Taught (PGT) Knowledge Exchange Pathway (KEP) will offer partner organisations – including for example, Birmingham City Council, Innovate UK and Amazon Web Services – access to a team of talented and relatively experienced PGT students who can work with them to scope persistent challenges and seek innovative solutions.

Research strengths across the University which could help partners include sustainability, responsible business, workplace health and wellbeing, data science/artificial intelligence, and cultures & equalities.

The £300,000 award has been made from a £10 million funding stream announced in October 2019 by the Universities Minister. Birmingham is one of 20 UK universities to receive funding from the OfS and Research England.

The fund supports projects which broaden understanding of the benefits to students of partnering with businesses, engaging with communities and third sector organisations, and professional training – collectively known as ‘knowledge exchange’ activities.

Professor Kathy Armour, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) at the University of Birmingham, commented: “We are delighted to secure funding for this hugely exciting project which will benefit both our students and local partner organisations.

“Our partners will have access to an exciting, multi-disciplinary resource in the form of our students who can help resolve their problems. In return, our students gain support in making the transition from university study to highly skilled employment.

“Through Knowledge Exchange and student engagement, this project also offers an important opportunity to close some of the gaps in access, success and progress seen in BAME and disabled student groups.”

The University will discuss industry needs with partner organisations – including to identify project themes aligned to priorities raised in the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy. These themes will be used as the basis for student group projects.

The University of Birmingham will also partner another OfS/Research England project led by Keele University - ‘Student Knowledge Exchange Re-imagined - Removing the barriers, engaging communities’. The project – which secured £920,000 of funding - will develop knowledge exchange best practice and expertise through a set of initiatives including civic internships, student consultancies, virtual placements, opportunities for international students, enterprise challenges, and curriculum design.

Sue Welland, Acting Director Careers and Employability at the University of Birmingham commented: “Securing this award in partnership with Keele University creates an opportunity for our students to develop entrepreneurial skills for the future world of work - delivered within our forthcoming City Centre presence, The University of Birmingham The Exchange.”

In 2017-18, English universities generated over £3.7 billion from knowledge exchange activity. As part of this, they helped to create over 3,500 graduate start-up businesses, attracting over £146 million of investment. Students play a significant role in this activity by, for example, establishing start-ups and spin-off companies, and providing skills and expertise for businesses, public services and community groups through consultancy, internships and work placements.

The projects awarded funding seek to identify how students benefit from this involvement, and address issues of equality, diversity and inclusion within knowledge exchange activities. Understanding best practice in this area will be key to ensuring that students’ involvement in knowledge exchange activities is helping to shape them into graduates who are well prepared for the world of work.

While funding awards to institutions have now been confirmed, the OfS will agree with universities what can be reasonably achieved during their initial months of work due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. This may include agreeing revised timescales or changes to planned activities. This approach recognises that providers and individual projects are likely to be affected in different ways during this period.

Projects will explore a range of knowledge exchange activities, including free-to-access courses run in partnership with the NHS for mental health service users, start-ups in the creative industries, and pro bono, social impact-driven consultancy and venture capital services.

Notes to editors

  • For more information, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)782 783 2312. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165. 
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The Office for Students (OfS) is the independent regulator for higher education in England. Our aim is to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.
  • Research England shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in English universities. It distributes over £2.2 billion to universities in England every year, and supports and challenges them to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. Research England is part of UK Research and Innovation, alongside the seven Research Councils and Innovate UK.