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Small Development Projects 2011 - Teesside University - Academic leadership for business engagement - Original Proposal

SDP leader

Dr Ruth Helyer, Head of Workforce Development Policy and Research, Department of Academic Enterprise, Teesside University

Project's administrative home
Teesside University

This proposal will develop a model for HEIs to develop and establish academic leaders in the field of business engagement, a critical role for universities. It will result in the active involvement of a greater number of academic staff, directly addressing the need for specific skills and approaches required for working with employers.

Emerging priorities in the higher education sector include the vital nature of transferable employability skills and the economic value of higher-level skills generally (those at level 4 and above). The activity strands in this proposal will work towards tying together the workforce development, work-based learning, employer engagement and skills agendas. They all focus on the same outputs – employable well-rounded graduates, developed to fulfil their potential and thrive in the workforce, in their communities, and in their lives. Good academic leaders are needed now more than ever to help all academic colleagues make the vital connections between the multi-faceted challenges students must negotiate to be successful lifelong learners.


  • To engage more academics in business-facing activity
  • To put in place mechanisms to develop academic leaders in this field, with the ability to lead and mentor less experienced colleagues
  • To promote and support the sharing of expertise and best practice for professional development


  1. To create and facilitate a network of practitioners with differing levels of experience and ability in business engagement to share best practice and support and to mentor each other via monthly meetings, workshops and events
  2. To create and lead a programme of leadership through mentoring for the business-facing community
  3. To create, populate and service a Workforce Development Innovation Observatory. This is a web portal with resources which will include research and publications, events information, discussion boards and blogs, details of colleagues’ expertise and other workforce development material. There will be a specific strand focusing on leadership through mentoring for the business-facing academic agenda.
  4. To create and facilitate a series of lunchtime seminars aimed at developing leadership qualities in business-facing staff. These will build on a tested model: the University is currently delivering monthly staff development seminars based on Dr Ruth Helyer’s book The Work-based Learning Student Handbook (Palgrave, 2010). This publication is specifically aimed at staff who are working/would like to work with work-based learners.
  5. To create a module for staff new to the university aimed at familiarising them with the business-facing agenda and helping them to become future leaders and mentors in this academic area.

Proposed methodology

  1. Form a core network steering group, comprising approximately 8 members, representatives from each academic school and central departments.
  2. Identify a suitable membership for a larger network (to be formed from existing networks, meetings, committees, workgroups and teams, and to include individuals, proposed by colleagues, not currently involved who would benefit).
  3. Recruit academic mentors.
  4. Book suitable space, refreshments for monthly meetings (with core group meeting in between main groups to set skeleton agenda/activities/themes).
  5. Use ambassadors to lead academics – sometimes in their own area, sometimes working across schools and departments. While cross-department working will be harder to facilitate, it is necessary to enable an HEI to respond to the multi-disciplinary needs of employers and to provide a seamless service from the university as a whole. The Department of Academic Enterprise has two senior members of academic staff who will organise and facilitate this programme and also assist with the delivery. The programme will include academics at all levels.
  6. Develop the Workforce Development Innovation Observatory. The Observatory is in its formative stages and has the potential to provide the ideal virtual home and focus for the leadership programme. All members of the network and all participants of the mentoring programme or the module will be encouraged to volunteer resources, materials, case studies, news and conference reports for the observatory, as a new way to share successes and to encourage ownership of the agenda. The Observatory will also be used to keep this community up to date with news and developments and to offer the chance to discuss issues via the blog facility and Yammer.
  7. Book suitable accommodation and catering for these events – one per month for the academic year 2010/11.
  8. Survey membership of network for topics which align with the project remit. Book suitable speakers and facilitators (a mix of internal and external).
  9. Build on the best practice of the Palgrave seminars which are proving a rich source of staff development. At the moment they are attracting academic colleagues from all Schools, as well as our partner further education colleges, who have not engaged with business-facing activity before. It has been apparent from the discussions fostered at the events that further staff development is both needed and desired in this area, with a number of colleagues keen to sharpen their own skills with a view to leading the agenda in their own section or department and ultimately across the sector.
  10. Develop a 10-credit assessed module aimed at familiarising lecturers new to higher education with the ideas and theories around facilitating learning for employed learners. There is very little material of this type in existence and this would be the first step towards developing expert practitioners, able to mentor and assist colleagues. This presents a way for new lecturers to develop an interest in this area of higher education activity and to use their self-development opportunities to transform themselves into the future leaders for this agenda. The module will be created in such a way that it can also be offered as a non-accredited module for staff development across other areas of the university and even externally. Individual sections of the module will be created in such a way that they could stand alone in an informative ‘lecture’ format – hence maximising their usefulness.

Outcomes and outputs

  • 20 new staff taking part in business engagement
  • 10 experienced staff developed as lead mentors (champions) in business engagement
  • Establishment of a new workforce development network for the exchange of best practice and knowledge for business facing staff
  • One new module piloted and delivered in facilitating learning for employed learning
  • 12 workshops

This project will support the higher education business engagement agenda by developing a model staff development programme to create academic leaders in this agenda and to encourage academics to work with and support business development. It will provide both the infrastructure and support required for interested staff to engage with the business community.

The activities and outcomes of the project will be widely disseminated through a range of media as detailed below.

Quarterly Milestones

February 2011 – April 2011

  • Desk Research – including auditing existing best practice internally and across the sector
  • Staff Survey Observatory updated:
  • Report
  • Survey
  • Best practise baseline established
  • Academic mentors identified and engaged

May 2011 – July 2011

  • Staff Workshops (as a part of annual workshop development conference)
  • Programme design and planning
  • Establish Workforce Development Network – consultation on programme design Observatory updated:
  • New staff identified and engaged
  • Training Programme
  • Workforce Development Network

August 2011 – October 2011
Delivery of programme of mentoring and training

  • New module established
  • Observatory membership increased
  • 20 staff mentored

November 2011 – January 2012

  • Delivery
  • Evaluation
  • Dissemination
  • Module delivered
  • Observatory updated
  • Evaluation report disseminated

Dissemination activities

  • A final report will be disseminated and a number of conference presentations will be made, along with publications. All of these would be available across the sector and would include:
  • Present paper about the project activities at UVAC (Universities Vocational Awards Council) national conference November 2011. (project leader presented paper there November 2010 re: Working with Employers in the Tees valley area, and is also a member of the UVAC Journal’s editorial board – Higher Education Skills and Work-based Learning so would aim to publish the project’s outcomes in there as well as other places).
  • Attend UALL annual conference in March to network with like-minded practitioners about this agenda.