Tuesday, 4 November 2008

University Board for Enterprise

I had a meeting this morning, the University Board for Enterprise. Some of the discussions were quite interesting. There was lots of reporting from the Faculties about what they had been doing, but the notion of enterprise as a third stream of University activity was challenged by several of us. We felt that enterprise was an attitude of mind, and that all of our work should be carried out in an enterprising manner, where relevant. Among the things that I learned at this meeting was that the government was continuing to push for incentivizing enterprise in universities, despite the economic downturn. There are plenty of initiatives around that will add leverage to any successes we have in terms of behaving more entrepreneurially. As to what constitutes enterprise, the list of potential activities is exceedingly vast, especially as most of the Schools whose reports came via Deans to this committee have each interpreted the enterprise agenda in their own way. One important aspect of enterprise is Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). These are defined on the KTP website as "Europe's leading programme helping businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base". There was a suggestion that we could be doing more in terms of developing successful KTPs into further research grants, perhaps closing the loop and having helped businesses to develop and apply new ideas, we should be harnessing the outcomes to raise new questions for our research.

It was clear from our implementation plans that the work of the School of Construction Management and Engineering forms a fundamental plank of the University's enterprise strategy. There is a lot of interest among businesses in executive development related to many of the issues we deal with in this School. Of course, this does raise the question of whether the researchers developing these ideas are the people who can be incentivized to turn them into CPD programmes and KTPs. This is something I shall need to investigate in the School.

I also learned that the University now has a Director of Events, who can help support the Schools with the organization of business-facing events. Clearly, the support for enterprise is growing more tangible.

One of the observations that I had was that although enterprise was clearly an attitude that should be reflected in everything that we do, whether research, teaching or anything else, this is not the only agenda that has to inform everything that we do. I recollect the introduction of quality assurance and quality management many years ago, that was rolled out across all sorts of organizations as being of fundamental importance. It was briefly highlighted as something that was very important, sufficient for people to be given the portfolio of quality management to look after, but then it became clear that this was an abrogation of responsibility, because it produced the idea that quality was something for them to look after, rather than something that should imbue everything that everyone does. In advanced organizations, it now appears to be integrated as part of everyone's activities. Health and safety is another agenda that has to be taken account of in everything we do, and now sustainability seems to be the most crucial issue that should be taken account of in every decision and plan. Inclusivity also rises up agendas from time to time. I was struck by how many things had to be taken account of at every step, and wondered if there was a life cycle for this kind of thing. Clearly, all this was too abstract for this meeting, but it would be interesting to debate further at some point.

One other issue that came up was the employability and entrepreneurship agenda. I was not sure about the idea of "enriching the students' experience" by providing them with skills and knowledge that would make them more employable. I wondered aloud if this were impoverishing the students' experience, and where the debate was about the role of Higher Education, and why students went to universities. I was reassured by the robustness of responses around the table. Many people shared exactly these concerns and were keen to underline the importance of graduates being able to challenge conventional wisdom and think creatively and analytically. The aim of this push was clearly not simply to turn the University into a preparation for particular vocations, but to provide graduates with the flexibility and imagination to respond in any way they saw fit to the situations in which they found themselves.

1 comment:

Will Hughes said...

One precaution I took before posting these impressions of how the UBE went was to run my draft text past the Chair of the Board, one of our Pro-Vice Chancellors. There was always that chance that putting information or impressions of this nature into the public domain can be a little risky. I was delighted with her response, which basically revolved around the importance of being challenging in an atmosphere of academic freedom and open communication. What a brilliant attitude from senior University management!

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