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Event Report: Embedding Business and Community Engagement

Delegates at BCE event

12th March 2010
Thames Valley University

“informal and informative”
"the structure and type of info will prove useful"    
"presentations were very interesting"
"surroundings made discussions easier"


RSC London ran its first event focussing on a new agenda of increasing relevance to all the post-16 education sectors: Business and Community Engagement (BCE).

Also referred to as Third Stream activity, Employer Engagement or Knowledge Transfer, BCE has for several years been a focus within FE and HE, and is also a high priority in the ACL and WBL sectors.

The JISC is running a number of projects on BCE. The first to report has included the production of an InfoKit by JISC InfoNet. This event looked at the BCE agenda in general and the new InfoKit in particular.

Keynote Presentation

Professor Chris Birch

Professor Chris Birch, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Business Development)
Thames Valley University

Professor Chris Birch welcomed delegates to Thames Valley University and gave a rousing introduction to the University’s work on BCE with a robust assessment of HE’s readiness to meet the needs of the 21st century learner.

In Chris’s opinion universities are bad at dealing with the student experience and long term employability and suggests that this needs to change by HEIs focussing on the individual's needs and learning from the Further Education sector.

Chris shared the experience at TVU where they have been forced by negative reputation and inspections to focus their curricula around the student experience. They have prioritised Business and Community Engagement with the aim of becoming London’s leading BCE HEI.

Much of the impetus for this comes from Government, for example, Higher Ambitions (DBIS, 2009). For TVU this is of fundamental importance in re-establishing the University within the region and potentially renaming it the University of West London.

The Future Skills Unit,  the venue for this event at TVU, received £8 million funding over a 3 year period to spearhead this areas of work. It  has seen particular progress in securing graduate internships. This has brought about new curriculum links, links with more employers, employability skills, commercial awareness of graduates, knowledge transfer, research opportunities and enhanced reputation amongst other benefits.

Link to Chris Birch’s presentation

The BCE Landscape and what 'embedded' means

John Burke and Clive Alderson

John Burke and Clive Alderson

JISC InfoNet

John and Clive reflected on the incredible diversity of BCE activities across the post-16 sectors and noted the disparities in funding. In HE there has been 'pump-priming' but often in ACL work is pursued in advance of any income being generated.

Delegates were asked to reflect on the BCE activity in their own sectors and to consider how ‘embedded activity' could be defined.

Delegates suggested it was when it formed a standard part of the institution's processes; but acknowledged there are barriers:

  • Business knows vaguely what it wants but often not in detail.
  • Education has a barrier in the 36 week contact year, when students are contacted 51 weeks of the year.
  • Personnel issues can constrain staff involvement.

Link to John and Clive’s presentation

The potential of technology to enhance Employer Engagement

Lorraine Collins

Lorraine Collins, Executive Director for Enterprise and Development,
Uxbridge College

The use of a Customer Relationship Management Database and introduction of e-assessment in Work-Based Learning

Lorraine Collins provided an overview of Uxbridge College’s Employer Engagement Strategy:

  • provide local employers with quality skills solutions;
  • respond rapidly to changing skills need;
  • partnerships with funders and agencies.

Key to achieving this is the use of the college's Customer Relationship Management system. CRM system reports help to identify areas where the activity is happening within the college, and also help in targeting that market - which is predominantly to micro-companies.

Lorraine reflected on the need to get the marketing department on board; produce a marketing plan and show impact for the institution.
Future plans include linking CRM processes with the Marketing and Promotions strategy.

Link to Lorraine’s presentation

An On-line Skills Assessment tool for BCE/KT Professionals

Alan Fitzgerald

Alan Fitzgerald
JISC Netskills

JISC BCE Programmes are driven by Government's strategic agenda to build the knowledge economy. Alan presented on the work at JISC Netskills to develop an online skills assessment tool to help people working in BCE assess where they are with regards to training and up-skilling for BCE projects.

The tool is planned to be launched on  June 24th at Aston University. 

Other outputs of this project will include an appropriate CPD Framework. In the current version, AURIL is being used. Future development of the tool will also include linking to relevant online resources from JISC, and other sources.

Link to Alan’s presentation

The Embedding BCE InfoKit

delegates in John Burke's presentation

John Burke
JISC InfoNet

John spoke about the the Review Process of the BCE project and how support for the BCE landscape requires the coordination of central units such as marketing, finance, HR, IT and Information Systems, Facilities Management and Libraries

The Review aims to:

•    identify key business processes and systems implications

•    develop the level/nature of engagement between core functions and BCE operations

•    identify areas for process improvement and pockets of good practice

Stakeholder interviews also took place and identified these issues:

  • communication
  • authority or the lack of it to make things happen –
  • moving from a silo mentality to a process account management approach - because cross-functional processes deliver institutional success or failure.

Reviews were structured and focussed on policy and strategy. They identified where strategies had been or were being written. In HE there was a gap between strategy and actual activity; planning is undertaken at middle or lower management with reference to strategy; SMT given overall responsibility; there was not a universal perception of involvement.
Recognition, identification and articulation of employable skills needs to be more widespread.

Processes and systems was another focus:

How easy was it to do business with the institution?
Poor management or duplication of contacts, intellectual property, information systems,
Little/no use of Web2.0?

Overall, BCE is about developing strong partnerships at a strategic level. It is useful to measure customer perception. Measures can include participation rates; qualitative measures are more difficult to capture.

Also useful is performance measurement: the sectors statutory returns, audited standards, etc

The Self-Evaluation Workbook
The self-evaluation workbook, a major output of JISC InfoNet's BCE work, was introduced to delegates. The workbook is used to gather opinions from across the organisation at different levels of seniority and helps build a complex picture of the institution's understanding and engagement with BCE activites. 
JISC InfoNet would welcome institutions to trial the Workbook and provide feedback on its usefulness.

Link to BCE infoKit

Summary / Final thoughts:

This first event of its kind for RSC London, started a long awaited and much needed discourse on an agenda of much importance to all sectors. Delegates were very open in sharing their experiences and keen to network with each other.

Some of the key messages from the day were

  • prioritising areas for improvement
  • suggestion for a development plan in the form of a template;
  • the disconnection between teams within providers such that embedding BCE was not seen as a priority.

RSC London feels that more work across the sectors is needed to address these issues and to maintain the momentum on this agenda. RSC London will be collaborating with providers and partners and drawing on existing BCE expertise and resources to offer the best advice and support to enable providers to embed BCE in their various contexts.

Bernard Aghedo, JISC RSC London Senior Adviser
Evan Dickerson, JISC RSC London Adviser
Kav Dev, JISC RSC London Adviser

Delegates at BCE Event

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