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Working with business and forging partnerships

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Knowledge transfer and exchange

While executive development is specifically about looking at the needs of a particular part of the workforce, knowledge transfer is about universities and industry co-creating knowledge. The knowledge may be about the industrial application of some research or theoretical knowledge (for example, strategic marketing) applied in a real world context.

Knowledge exchange occurs when interested parties from a university and a particular industry sector (or sectors) share their ideas in a more formal way.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

The Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) programme has been described 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" (Department of Trade and Industry, 2007).

The basic principle behind KTP is that a commercial organization has a project, or particular piece of consultancy (for example, changing its brand, entering a new market, designing a management information system or a new product). It is put in touch with a suitable "KTP associate" in the form of a well-qualified student (a recent graduate or postgraduate in an appropriate subject) to work in-house on the project, with the backing of their university.

In both 2006 and 2007, 21 per cent of all projects were in the areas of management and business, roughly the same amount as for engineering. There were 24 business partnerships in 2007.

KTP is funded by the UK's Department of Trade and Industry, which sees it as a highly successful, government-funded project in terms of profit, jobs, investment in plant and training generated. It was estimated that in 2006/07, companies stood to benefit from an overall increase in annual profit before tax of some £100 million, and the creation of over 1,400 new jobs in addition to those directly working on the KTP project.

Like all good industry-university partnerships, there are benefits to all sides:

  • Increased profit, jobs and skills base for the company.
  • The opportunity for the associate at an early stage of his or her career to become involved in a real world project of considerable importance, and the possibility of a job (60 per cent of associates end up working for their company).
  • The HEI gets the opportunity to develop genuine business-based teaching materials, and identify new research themes.

The partnership between Leeds City Credit Union (LCCU) and the University of Leeds Business School won the 2007 award for the best application of management or social science. The aim was to develop and implement a marketing strategy to help the growth of affordable financial services for a broad cross-section of clients, including those suffering from social disadvantage. The associate used a range of techniques to profile members, identify their needs and find gaps in the market, enabling LCCU to be more responsive. Those involved with the project at Leeds University gained experience of demographic profiling, while the associate got the opportunity to work on a strategic product and is now a permanent staff member.

Blah D Blah Limited is a creative design agency which was looking to update its information system. It worked with Bangor University School of Computer Science – its associate was doing an MPhil postgraduate degree – to produce a new management information system covering customer enquiries, quotations, product specs, scheduling, outsourcing, invoicing and customer-relationship management. The result was increased turnover due to greater operational efficiency. The associate got management experience and a project he could use for his degree; the university got a new case study and an enhanced profile for the School of Computer Science.

Student projects

KTP provides a highly structured programme of knowledge transfer backed with government funding. However, students have long been doing work-based projects as part of business-related degrees.

Warwick Business School offers companies the possibility of consultancy on particular projects with students from its postgraduate programmes. These include both traditional and specialist degrees, such as the MSc in financial mathematics, covering financial modelling, statistical forecasting and understanding financial markets.

Students for an MBA at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) – which prides itself on its strong corporate links and uses the slogan "real world, real learning" – carry out a consultancy project as part of their degree.

As with KTP partnerships, such arrangements can work to the mutual benefit of all, providing:

  • experience for the student,
  • real world knowledge to the university, and
  • free or low cost consultancy for the company.

However, there needs to be a structure and strong commitment from all sides.

All Warwick Business School's projects are closely supervised by a member of faculty who ensures that the project is correctly defined and that the work is of a required standard.

IMD ensures buy-in from the cooperating company by requiring the CEO to:

  • attend three presentations;
  • make an official announcement that the project is going ahead;
  • ensure access to information; and
  • assign someone to work with the delegate and the IMD team.

On IMD's side, a member of the faculty directs the project and supervises the student.

Knowledge networks

The knowledge in universities lies in their intellectual capital and the dialogue they help stimulate – the communities of practice that form around a shared area of concern. Thus some leading business schools offer not just their expertise, but also their facilitation skills in assembling like-minded people to pool knowledge.

IMD formalizes its corporate links through its unique Learning Network of more than 190 partner companies, with whom it collaborates closely. The members, often the top human resource managers, are convened regularly for feedback "from the market".

These companies contribute to IMD's governance, drive the research agenda, encourage innovation and generally help foster strong and sustained mutual learning partnerships.

According to Gordon Adler, a former director of communications:

"IMD's links with business are arguably stronger, more direct and more formalized [than other schools]. IMD's many governing bodies are populated in large part by seasoned executives. You could say that IMD was borne of business and is perhaps the only business school run like a business, with no outside funding, and very close ties to partnership companies".

The Learning Network offers weekly webcasts, as well as a number of learning events showcasing recent IMD research and addressing the challenges faced by those in strategic management. There is also a series of half-day business forums which take place around the world.

Warwick Business School also has a number of collaborative partnerships that foster knowledge networks across a range of disciplines. For example, the Strategic Sales and Customer Management Network looks at increasing value to customers from both a practical and a research perspective.