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We are the champions - LSBU staff ensuring graduates leave with much more than a degree

Anna Howard LSBU Enterprise Champion

LSBU’s Enterprise Champions are working with the Enterprise team to weave enterprise into the curriculum. We spoke to them about their role

Passionate about enterprise

“Here at LSBU we are setting students up for the rest of their lives. Quite simply, enterprise gives them the confidence to go on and achieve whatever they are capable of, as well as making them more employable.” These are the words of Associate Professor of Enterprise Education, Anna Howard, which highlight just how passionate the staff at LSBU are about ensuring everyone who graduates from the University does so with more than simply a degree.

Further proof of this passion is provided by Senior Lecturer, James Barnham, who adds: “The key thing for students is to immerse themselves in experiencing and exploring the steps involved in developing their ideas. When students realise they can do something, they then become empowered.”

So, while it is clear that many people within the university are passionate about enterprise, how is this translated into practical delivery and opportunities for students? Well, there are a variety of activities organised by the Student Enterprise team, such as enterprise internships, the Spark scheme and other start-up programmes, but on a day-to-day basis efforts have been made to weave enterprise into the curriculum, as Associate Professor Anna explains.

Here at LSBU we are setting students up for the rest of their lives… enterprise makes them more employable and gives them the confidence to go on and achieve whatever they are capable of.

- Anna Howard, Associate Professor of Enterprise Education

Embedding enterprise into the curriculum

“Within the School of Business, we have recently rewritten our entire undergraduate portfolio and are planning to do the same for our postgraduate one next year. As part of this we consulted with a range of experts, both in-house and external, to make sure that what we are teaching is as relevant to the real world as possible. It’s obviously not about trying to ensure that everyone who graduates goes on to set up their own business, but rather is about recognising that every student has their own capabilities, making them aware of their potential and developing all-round skills that will be beneficial, whatever route they choose to take.

It’s also about developing student-led learning and facilitating opportunities for active learning, as opposed to the more traditional ‘chalk and talk’ methods of the past. We have also been developing a number of extra-curricular activities, an example of which is the Business Solutions Centre we have created with the Student Enterprise team, which offers a free drop-in service to local businesses. A trained team of student advisers help businesses with advice on small business accounting, marketing, social media and IT solutions, backed up by university professional and academic staff.”

Modules focused on enterprise

“Personally, I lead a module for final year Engineering students called Innovation and Enterprise, where, in teams, students explore everyday problems and work through many creative techniques and processes to define a suitable improvement,” adds James. “It has been constructed to demystify enterprising behaviour and students get to have a go. They get a real grasp of the process of developing a bare concept through to consideration of how it could be taken to market.

"If students realise that they can do it and it can be enjoyable we may inspire them to create amazing new products and businesses around those products. Future employers of graduates hugely appreciate this input to the curriculum, as it creates students with the ability to recognise the benefits they can bring within their role in a business, but also how to maximise other interactions and functions connected to their role."

It’s obviously not about trying to ensure that everyone who graduates goes on to set up their own business, but rather about recognising that every student has their own capabilities, making them aware of their potential and developing all-round skills that will be beneficial, whatever route they choose to take.

- Anna Howard, Associate Professor of Enterprise Education

“Another module I’m involved in is the Technology Evaluation and Commercialisation module, where students investigate breakthrough technologies and develop potential beneficial offshoots. These are then defined and shaped through using suitable algorithms. The end result is a business plan that proposes a viable new product or service; in some cases this has helped students to develop their own new business. Finally, the Design modules see students tasked with developing new designs based on certain guidelines and contexts. They create and test physical models and prototypes, sometimes to destruction, which is a very good way to understand what does and doesn’t work! They explore design processes, materials, ways of manufacturing, prototyping, analysis, environmental considerations and use of CAD to develop and communicate their designs.”

Associate Professor Anna says that it was vital that LSBU moved in this direction because the benefits for students are enormous: “As mentioned, quite simply it makes them more employable. The days of people graduating and then staying in one job for 20 or 30 years are over, and people move around much more than ever. As a result, we need to ensure that we equip graduates with the skills to be able to do that, to make themselves attractive to all kinds of employers and help them develop the confidence to recognise exactly what they are capable of, which may include running their own business.”

Professional skills build confidence

These sentiments are echoed by Senior Lecturer and Course Director for FdSc and BSc (Hons) Baking Technology Management, Elaine Thomson, who adds: “The work I do with students involves interactive exercises that focus on key practical issues, workshops and guest lectures, liaison with alumni and activities such as pop-up stalls and mini-business competitions. There is no doubt that through this I have seen their confidence grow, they become more familiar with the industries and areas they are hoping to become a part of, they learn by doing and through the mistakes they make, and it improves their strength of character. All of this can only stand them in good stead when they leave.”

Overcoming challenges

Although it is clear that encouraging enterprise has benefits for both staff and students, implementing these activities does bring with it a number of challenges, apart from the usual suspects of time, money and resources. “I believe that words such as ‘innovation’, ‘enterprise’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ are often misconceived or misunderstood and, as a result, some people are unsure of their relevance or wonder if it’s worth pursuing,” explains James. “These concepts, however, have value in every taught course, and are based on the fact that we should never simply accept ‘what is’. Instead, we should be asking ‘what if’ and taking steps to make everything around us better, more efficient, greener and more enjoyable.”

The concepts of enterprise, innovation and entrepreneurship have value in every taught course, and are based on the fact that we should never simply accept ‘what is’. Instead, we should be asking ‘what if’ and taking steps to make everything around us better, more efficient, greener and more enjoyable.

- James Barnham, Senior Lecturer

On a more specific – and possibly more practical – level, attempting to overcome these potential challenges does offer the opportunity for a whole host of highlights. “For me, a lot of the extra-curricular things I’m involved in have provided a real sense of satisfaction and brought enormous benefits to the students,” says Associate Professor Anna.

“One example is the annual Network of International Business Schools competition that we have entered for several years now. Students have had the chance to visit countries such as Canada and Finland, and this year we even made it to the semi-final before being knocked out by the eventual Canadian victors. Simply to qualify for this event is a great achievement, but to get so far was a real credit to everyone involved. The students were away for a week of intense competition, and have taken part in an experience they will simply never forget. It was also a learning process for me too, and since I returned I have developed a module that utilises many of the competition’s activities, which all of our students will benefit greatly from.”

Student achievement - the value of enterprise 

Echoing these thoughts, James adds: “As a result of the enterprise activities on offer at LSBU we often see students go far in design and engineering competitions and winning prizes or awards, while other students have graduated to work for prestigious companies such as McLaren or Dyson or have decided to start their own companies. Many have chosen to take their major project further on a course supported by the team at the Clarence Centre for Enterprise and Innovation.

“It’s this level of achievement that drives me to keep spreading the word about the value of enterprise. It’s vital that we continue to enhance what we do and how we deliver it more effectively. We need to keep up our taught content up to date in this ever-changing environment, and support our students even greater with the hope they will become even more successful. The recent winning of the Times Higher Education Awards, Entrepreneurial University of the Year has really encouraged students and staff to engage further with enterprise and innovation.”

 
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