Theme: Knowledge exchange, Universities’ and businesses’ shared role in regional development, Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Ben Ricketts (NMITE), Prof Beverley Gibbs (NMITE) and Harriet Dearden (NMITE)

Keywords: Challenge-based Learning, Timber Technology, Levelling-up, Skills, Future of Work

Abstract: NMITE is a greenfield engineering-specialist HEI in Herefordshire which welcomed its first students in September 2021. Partnership is key to our growth, from both necessity and choice. Our MEng Integrated Engineering is infused with partners who facilitate a challenge-based learning pedagogy, and our Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (opening September 2022) works in national partnership to deliver a curriculum developed by ‚Äď and for – the timber engineering industry. Alongside a rich educational offer, NMITE‚Äôs greenfield status brings with it the responsibility to contribute to civic and economic growth. We are a named partner in Western Power Distribution‚Äôs Social Contract as we pursue shared goals for regional development and reduced economic inequality. Key to our goals is our role in in Hereford‚Äôs Town Plan, leading an initiative called The Skills Foundry which will promote community engagement around individual skills, and with businesses in the changing nature of work.

 

NMITE is a greenfield HEI founded to make a difference to the people of Herefordshire and to its economy. Herefordshire is  characterised by lower-than-average wages, lower-than-average skills, higher proportions of part-time work, a GVA gap of £1.75bn[1], and is categorised as a social mobility coldspot [2].  Into this context, NMITE was launched in 2021 without any antecedent or parent organisation, and with an engineering and technology focus whose graduates would help address the national shortfall of engineers.  We see ourselves as educators, educational innovators, a catalyst for upskilling, and agents for regional change.

An HEI founded in partnership

From NMITE’s earliest days, building strong relationships with partners has been a core part of our culture.  NMITE’s first supporters were industry partners, a mixture of local SMEs and national and international companies with a regional presence, united by the need for access to a talent pipeline of engineering graduates. The urgency of this need was evidenced in the raising of over £1M of seed funding, from a range of businesses and individuals. This early investment demonstrated to Government and other stakeholders that the concept of an engineering higher education institution in Hereford had industrial support. In turn, this unlocked significant Government funding which has subsequently been matched through donations and sponsorship to NMITE.

Over the last five years, the portfolio of partners has continued to grow. The nature of the support spans equipment, expertise and financial donations. Our Pioneer Fund raised money to support NMITE’s first students, with donations recognised through naming opportunities. For NMITE, this enabled us to offer universal bursaries to our students joining in our first two years of operation Рa powerful tool in student recruitment, and with a longer-term outcome for those early investors in their ability to develop relationships with students, increase their brand awareness and achieve their own recruitment targets in the future.

Curriculum Partnerships

NMITE welcomed its first MEng students in September 2021, and this has provided new opportunities for industrial partnership in the curriculum. The MEng Integrated Engineering is a challenge-led pedagogy where learners work in teams to address real engineering challenges provided by an industrial (and occasionally community) partner. During the process, learners have direct contact with professionals to understand commercial pressures and engineering value, apply theoretical knowledge and develop professional capabilities.

In the sprint-based MEng, NMITE learners tackle around 20 different challenges in this way. Since September, our first students have helped re-engineer the material on a torque arm, designed and built a moisture sensor for a timber-framed house, visualised data from a geotechnical survey, and validated/optimised their own designs for a free-standing climbing structure. Students are already building their portfolio of work, and employers are building relationships with our student body.

Amplifying Innovation

Whilst NMITE is comfortable in its positioning as a teaching-focused HEI, we are mindful of the contribution we can make to the regional economy. NMITE has benefitted from LEP investment to support regional skills and productivity [3], and we have identified opportunities in advanced timber technology, automated manufacturing and skills for a changing future of work.

The Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (CATT) will open in September 2022 on Skylon Park, Hereford‚Äôs Enterprise Zone. Drawing on insight from a series of round table meetings with global and national businesses in timber, we came to understand that the UK timber industry needed to be much better connected, with more ambitious collaboration across the industry both vertically (seed to end product) and horizontally (between architects, engineers and construction managers, for example). In pursuing these aims we once again opted for a partnerships-based approach, forging close relationships with Edinburgh Napier University – internationally recognised for timber construction and wood science – and with TDUK ‚Äď the timber industry‚Äôs central trade body. Founded in this way, CATT is firmly rooted in industrial need, actively engaged with industrial partners across the supply chain, and helps join up activity between Scotland, England and Wales.¬†

CATT’s opening in 2022 will spearhead NMITE’s offer for part-time, work-based learners (including professionals, reskillers and degree apprentices) and provide a progressive curriculum for a sustainable built environment. In keeping with NMITE’s pedagogical principals, the CATT’s curriculum will be infused with a diverse portfolio of industrial partners who will provide challenges and context for the CATT curriculum. In future years, the Centre for Automated Manufacturing will provide educational options for comparable learners in the manufacturing industry.

Our initial research in establishing need in these areas pointed not only to skills shortages, but to technological capacity. Herefordshire has a very high proportion of SME’s who report difficulties in horizon scanning new technologies, accessing demonstrations, attracting and retaining graduates with up-to-date knowledge. In this space, and an HEI can play a key role in amplifying innovation; activities to support this will be integral to NMITE’s work at Skylon Park.

The Changing Nature of Work

NMITE is active in two further projects that support the regional economy and social mobility, founded in the knowledge that today’s school leavers will face very different career paths and job roles to those we have enjoyed. Automation, globalisation and AI are hugely disruptive trends that will change opportunities and demand new skills.

NMITE‚Äôs ‚ÄėHerefordshire Skills for the Future‚Äô project is funded by the European Social Fund and helps SMEs, micro-businesses and young people to develop and secure the skills needed to flourish in the economy of 2030. Activities include:

NMITE’s Future Skills Hub is a central element of the Hereford Stronger Towns bid [4] to the Government’s Towns Fund, a flagship levelling-up vehicle. The overarching goal of the hub is to provide access to skills and improve employment opportunities for Herefordians, in the context of changing job roles and opportunities.

Conclusion

Our core mission of innovation in engineering education is enhanced by our civic commitment to regional growth and individual opportunity. From the outset, NMITE has been clear that to meet business demand for work-ready engineers, business must contribute meaningfully to their development. We aim to contribute to closing the gap in regional, national and global demand for engineers, but without that critical early investment from partners we would not have been in the position to establish the radical institution that NMITE is today, that remains so close to the original vision of the Founders.

 

[1] Herefordshire Council. Understanding Herefordshire: Productivity and Economic Growth, 2022. Available online at Productivity and economic growth – Understanding Herefordshire [accessed 17th January 2022].

[2] [1] Herefordshire Council. Understanding Herefordshire: Topics Related to Social Mobility, 2022. Available online at Topics relating to social mobility – Understanding Herefordshire [accessed 17th January 2022].

[3] Marches Local Economic Partnership. Marches LEP backs NMITE project with £5.66m funding deal. Available online at Marches LEP backs NMITE project with £5.66m funding deal РMarches LEP [accessed 17th January 2022].

[4] Stronger Hereford. #StrongerHereford ‚Äď The independent Towns Fund Board for Hereford

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Graduate employability and recruitment, Research

Author: Dr Salma .M.S. Al Arefi (University of Leeds)

Keywords: Science and Social Capitals, Sense of Belonging, Intersectionality, Student Success

Abstract: Being in a marginalised position due to feeling of otherness because of one‚Äôs gender as well as intersecting identity can create psychological hidden barriers. Coupled with science and social capitals such variables are key determines of student‚Äôs self-concept of engineering self-efficacy, competencies, and abilities. The impact of being othered may not only be limited to interest for participation in engineering but could extend beyond and significantly affect student engagement, success, and affiliation with engineering. This could impact students’ sense of belonging to their degree programme, university, and discipline, leading to adverse impacts ranging from low engagement to low attainment, or discontinuations. Such experiences can be greatly exacerbated for students with intersecting identities (‚Äėdouble, triple, jeopardy‚Äô), e.g., a female student who identifies as a first-generation, working-class, disabled, commuter, carer, neurodiverse or mature student. This report presents work on progress on a student-centred interventional case study on exploring the impact of the intersectional lived experiences of underrepresented, disadvantaged and minoritised student groups in engineering beyond obvious gender and pre-university qualifications characteristics.

 

1.     Problem Statement

Initiatives on closing the technical skills gap remain limited to access to either engineering education or the workplace.¬† Identifying and supporting students facing barriers to continuation can be key to enhancing student success in a way that bridges the gap between the ignition of interest and transition to the engineering industry.¬† Early but sustained engagement throughout the life cycle of an engineering student is however vital to cultivate students’ sense of belonging to their modules, degree programmes and the wider industry. That would in turn support the formation of their engineering identity.

Gendered identity, as well as pre-university qualifications, are yet perceived to exert the strongest force for marginalisation and underrepresentation in engineering education and the workplace. The impact intersecting identities can have in relation to ignition of interest, participation, as well as the formation of engineering identity, also need consideration.¬† Along with gender, characteristics such as race, class, age, or language can have an added impact on already minoritized individuals (the ‚Äėdouble, triple, quadrant…. jeopardy‚Äô), whereby the experience of exclusion and otherness can be exacerbated by overlapping marginalised identities. Coupled with the self-concept of own science capital, efficacies, and competencies [1-2], the formation of engineering identity could be expressed as a direct function of a sense of inclusion or otherwise exclusion [3]. Within this context, such an inherent feeling of connectedness describes the extent to which the lived experience of individuals is acknowledged valued and included [4], which is a healthy fertilizer for the formation of engineering identity. Perceived threats to one‚Äôs belonging due to a feeling of exclusion or rejection could on the contrary negatively impact one‚Äôs perception of self-efficacy and hence affiliation with engineering.

2.     Project Aims

The role of effect in learning to foster a sense of belonging and enhance a coherent sense of self and form the engineering identity has attracted growing pedagogical research interest. In academia, a sense of belonging has been shown to excrete the largest force on one’s intent to participate in engineering and to be the key sustainable vehicle for successful progressions. Because engineering learning activities are pursued in complex social interactions, acknowledging, and understanding the role of belonging in academic success is key to fostering an inclusive culture that encourages and recognises contributions from all.  It is hoped that the project outcomes can advise on understanding to support underrepresented, marginalised and minoritised students overcome self-perceived psychological barriers to their degree programme, university, or engineering workplace. The intersectional lens of the project is aimed to uncover key culprits that impact engineering identity formation for traditionally underrepresented, disadvantaged and minoritised students beyond obvious gender and pre-university education characteristics.

Outcomes will role model fostering an inclusive culture where engineering students from all backgrounds feel that they belong in an effort to support engineering higher education institutions to adhere to the changes introduced by the Engineering Council to the U.K. Standards for Professional Engineering Competency and Commitment around recognising inclusivity and diversity. This should be applicable to other STEM-related disciplines.

3.     Decolonial partnership

The project centres on students’ voices through a decolonial participation approach that acknowledges participants as co-researchers and enables them to take an active role in the co-creation of the project deliverables. Participation will be incentivised through recognition (authorship, certifications) as well as financial incentives.¬† The use of evidence-based active listening to enable students to share their lived experiences of belonging through storytelling and story sharing is hoped to create a safe space to empower and acknowledge student voices so that every student feel that they matter to their degree programme, university, and discipline. That in turn would cultivate authentic learner identity and a sense of belonging.

4.     Outcomes and future work

The findings are hoped to advise on a sustainable support approach whereby early and sustained engagement (throughout the student lifecycle from access to continuation, attainment, and progression) are prioritised to facilitate the transition of students into and from Engineering. Co-created artefacts from the project will be used to support access and continuation by providing examples of lived experiences for prospective students to associate with. Fostering a sense of belonging is hoped to have a direct impact on learner engagement, success, and attainment as well as enhancing students’ ability to progress towards achieving their unique goals beyond their degree.

The second phase of the 2-year project will involve student recruitment and selection, interventional listening, storytelling-based approaches and co-creation of artefacts.

Acknowledgement

The work is carried out as part of the fellowship of the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence in partnership with Dr Kendi Guantai, from Leeds Business School, Marketing Division and Dr Nadine Cavigioli Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds.

References

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Universities’ and business’ shared role in regional development; Knowledge exchange.

Authors: Prof Tony Dodd (Staffordshire University); Marek Hornak (Staffordshire University) and Rachel Wood (Staffordshire University).

Keywords: Regional Development Funding, Innovation Enterprise Zone

Abstract: The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire region registers low in measures of economic prosperity, research and development expenditure, productivity, and higher skills. Staffordshire University has received funding to support regional growth in materials, manufacturing, digital and intelligent mobility and to develop higher skills. Packaged together into the Innovation Enterprise Zone these projects have made positive impacts in the region. This presentation will provide an overview of our approach to regional support and highlight impact and lessons learnt for companies, academics, and students.

 

Background

The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire economy underperforms compared to the wider West Midlands and England [1].

Industry is dominated by SMEs with strengths in manufacturing, advanced materials, automotive, logistics and warehousing, agriculture, and digital industries [1].

Aims and Objectives

The aim was to develop an ecosystem for driving innovation, economic growth, job creation and higher skills in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

The objectives were to:

Enterprise Zone and Projects

Funding was successfully awarded from ERDF, Research England, and Staffordshire County Council.  The themes of the projects were developed in collaboration with regional partners to identify key strengths and potential for growth.  Each of the projects is match funded by Staffordshire University including through academic time.

Innovation

Skills development through the Enterprise Academy

The projects are part of the wider Staffordshire University Innovation Enterprise Zone (launched November 2020, Research England) to support research collaboration, knowledge exchange, innovation, and skills development.  This includes space for business incubation and low-cost shared office space in The Hatchery for new start-ups.  We also provide a Creative Lab (funded by Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP) for hosting business-academic meetings and access to the SmartZone equipment for rapid prototyping.

Spotlight on Innovation Projects

To highlight the differences between approaches we highlight two innovation projects.

Staffordshire Advanced Manufacturing, Prototyping, and Innovation Demonstrator (SAMPID) Staffordshire Connected & Intelligent Mobility Innovation Accelerator (SCIMIA)
Advanced manufacturing and product development Connected and intelligent mobility
ERDF funded ERDF funded
SMEs in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire SMEs in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire
12-weeks of funded support Up to 12-months of support
Innovation consultants (students/graduates) Innovation consultants (students/graduates)
Academic supervision, knowledge exchange and business support Academic supervision, knowledge exchange and business support
Dedicated technician support (0.5FTE) Dedicated technician support (0.5FTE)
3x funded PhD students to support projects and develop advanced innovation 2x Innovation and Enterprise Fellows to support technical business engagement
Funded advanced manufacturing equipment (including 3D metal printing, robot arms) and access to equipment in SmartZone Access to equipment in SmartZone
   

 

Case study videos:

Lessons Learnt

Business engagement

Project length

Student roles and recruitment

Supporting roles

Academic involvement

Possible future developments

References

[1] Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (2019).¬† Local Industrial Strategy ‚Äď Evidence Base September 2019.¬† Available from Development of a Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Industrial Strategy (SSIS) (stokestaffslep.org.uk)

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

 

Let us know what you think of our website