Collaborative placement programme hailed as a resounding success

A project encouraging innovation and interaction between academia and business has been highly successful supporting the generation of £12.1 million of additional income, representing a return on investment of 7.83.

SIM WALES 

The £1.8m Strategic Insight Programme (SIP), funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) is a collaborative, pan-Wales programme, encouraging innovation and facilitating interaction between university staff and public, private and voluntary sector organisations.

Individuals from academia were funded to spend time with a business (SIP), and individuals from business were funded to spend time with an academic (reverse SIP) for the purpose of exchanging information, creating strong working relationships and facilitating the generation of ideas for on-going collaboration.

An end of project review has found that the 690 SIP placements were highly successful, representing exceptional value for money, with low risk involvement, justification for academic engagement, and rewards for both the University and business over and above what was expected.  Light touch paperwork, swift turnaround of decisions and spin off opportunities resulting from collaboration were raised as positives over other engagement projects of this nature.

Between 2011 and 2015, Swansea University supported 98 successful SIP applications, which resulted in over £6.9 million of income being generated to date.  One in four of these placements reported a capture of additional income, averaging out at over £303,531 per placement. 

The placements gave individuals from the University time to understand a business’s culture and objectives which in turn enabled them to identify how best they could work together.  In addition to helping to secure more income, the placements supported curriculum development at the University, collaboration on a variety of events and further learning (PHD / Masters) opportunities in more than 1 in 6 instances.

Dr David Blaney, Chief Executive of HEFCW, said: “The figures clearly show how universities are able to capitalise on a relatively small amount of programme funding, which has ultimately benefitted both businesses and academia. We hope that this gave universities the boost they needed to strengthen their links with businesses, and that companies have found productive ‘ways in’ to tap into experts from the higher education world that will continue long after the original funding has been spent.”

Ceri Jones, Director of Research, Engagement & Innovation Services (REIS) at Swansea University commented: “The programme was a perfect opportunity for academics to showcase the facilities, expertise and resources Swansea University has to offer to the business community and highlighted how students could support further research within an organisation through a range of placement programmes. 

“The incentivising of relationships between industry and academia through these placements generated many new opportunities for the transfer of knowledge between parties, with individuals who may not have considered working together previously working together, and in many cases, going on to collaborate on further projects”

There were numerous intangible benefits generated from the SIPs including the brokering relationships, the sharing of best practice amongst University staff and the enlightening of academics with an insight into commercial operations, the environment beyond the University and the dynamism of opportunities complimentary to their role.

A £2,000 reverse SIP supported the development of a closer working relationship between Paul Byard of EEF, the Manufacturer’s Organisation, and Gary Walpole of Swansea University.  It secured time for the two parties to learn about each other’s strategic agendas, hold brainstorming sessions and conduct desk research to gather market intelligence which was used to co-produce a report highlighting the challenges faced by businesses in the manufacturing industry in Wales. 

The report was shared with the Welsh Government via Industry Wales to help influence National policy and was used as the foundation of a successful bid to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) for £150,000 to run a 12-month training programme designed to boost skills and innovation within Welsh manufacturing businesses.  It will be delivered in partnership with the EEF and Industry Wales.    

Gary Walpole from Swansea University said: “This award was made on the grounds that we were able to offer new and ground-breaking proposals to boost the skills and business practices needed to maximise the value of UK innovation. And we are very much looking forward to doing that.

“The SIM Wales programme we will put in place for the 12 businesses across Wales who are taking part, will be robust and exacting - The SIM Wales programme - designed to affect real change and real improvement. That is a result which can only have a positive effect not just on the firms involved but also on the wider Welsh economy.