BRINGING UNIVERSITY AND INDUSTRY TOGETHER IN PARTNERSHIP: A COLLABORATION BETWEEN COVENTRY UNIVERSITY AND UNIPART MANUFACTURING GROUP
Within some European countries, for example Germany and France, a high proportion of students secure work placements as part of their course. This opportunity develops students and strengthens industry-academia interactions. In comparison, the UK lag behinds – a point that was commented on by the UK Universities minister David Willetts recently, as regards preparing graduates for employment. This difference raises the question as to what is deficient within the partnership models within the UK in cementing an effective relationship? This paper will consider tactics to overcome this gap and the resulting operational challenges, focussing particularly on undergraduate course development. A case study will be used to illustrate the approach: Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing Group development of a BEng Manufacturing Engineering degree.
Effective strategic partnerships require a clear and shared vision, as well as an effective operational model that develops lasting relationships: a set of specific resources and learning competencies.
The shared vision from both university and company was to produce work-ready graduates – graduates that do not require an extended graduate training scheme; this is not the norm. The achievement of this vision required consideration of physical environments, communication and operational challenges to create a deeper level of collaboration.
The partnership will result in the building of an institute for academic and research development which is to be based at Unipart Manufacturing’s site in Coventry. This new resource will see a learning environment where students will be based, allowing them to work on live industrial projects that reinforce taught theory. These semester-long projects will be proposed by the company and progress will be mentored by University subject-specialists and industrial workplace mentors.
This teaching model of one project for each 16-week semester resulted from a series of discussions factoring the voices of the three main stakeholders: Academic institute (AI), Industry partner (IP) and the students. A key challenge that this held was interpreting each voice - what are they really saying and what do they really want, as past experiences show when Universities and Industry come together to form partnerships differences in language and terminology created barriers. Academic hybrids (an academic who has transferred from professional practice to higher education) were key translators between AIs and IPs – allowing the move from elaborative language to restrictive language and back again to ensure no misunderstanding.
The close and frequent interaction of students with industrial mentors on a company’s site built into the semester-long projects brings a number of new challenges – particularly identifying live projects suitable for each level of study, the rules of engagement (how do the students gain access to the shop floor), health and safety, intellectual property rights and maintaining general and transferable skills (not only the company approach). The resolution of these dimensions will be outlined to demonstrate how work-relevant degree programs require a unique set of competencies to develop and implement.