Some estimates suggest 65% of students will take on jobs or roles that have not been invented yet. The accuracy of the estimate may be contested, but what we do know is that jobs like app developers, social media influencers, cloud computing specialists and Uber drivers did not exist in 2005. Just imagine what that list may look like another 15 years from now.
A forward-thinking team from the University of Bristol, together with partners in industry, set out to reimagine how to prepare students to succeed in this fast-paced, changing world. In 2016, this vison came to life as the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship welcomed its first cohort onto its suite of four-year integrated master’s degrees. Our aim: to graduate the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs with the adaptability, agility, transdisciplinary and innovative thinking to make positive differences in an ever-changing world.
The Innovation Programmes bring together students from across 14 different subject disciplines to study innovation and entrepreneurship alongside their core discipline. Starting as undergraduates, after four years students graduate with a master’s degree. As one may imagine, an undertaking of this scale does not happen without lessons learned along the way. Here we share of few of the challenges faced and how we worked to overcome them.
1. Embrace radical collaboration
Developing the programmes required collaboration across 14 academic schools within five faculties. Existing rules, long-standing regulations and even traditional assessment methodologies had to be challenged to enable an ecosystem which supports risk taking, creativity and failure.
The idea of breaking the status quo in order to rebuild it into something new has always been top of mind. From the admin team to the teaching team, asking “why?” and challenging conventions has become common place. Numerous visits, meetings and workshops helped get those in a variety of positions across the University onboard and helped the Centre’s staff break down the institutional barriers to innovation. The team also worked closely with current and prospective students through a series of workshops held both at the University and within secondary schools in the region aimed at better understanding and designing for, the target audience.
2. Build external partnerships
Preparing students for a rapidly changing world means bridging the gap between academia and employment in an integrated, sustainable way. These partnerships may mean additional time to manage, new perspectives to understand and partners to get on board. However, they are essential for building the skills that employers are looking for in the workforce and reinforcing to students the applicability of those skills to their future career.
Early on, the Centre formed an industry advisory board in order to learn and collaborate with others who have pushed boundaries, innovated, made mistakes and learned from them. It has been conscious about building a well-rounded team that includes academics, practising professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators. External partners also play an important role in the curriculum as mentors and by setting briefs for project-based units where businesses, non-profits and government agencies are invited to share real challenges faced by their organisations to be addressed by student teams.
3. Adopt a clear structure, mission and values
The majority of staff at the Centre work in industry alongside holding fractional positions with the University. Getting the whole team together can be challenging and, as in any team, there are many different personalities and perspectives to bring together. This is both a challenge and a source of tremendous strength; working through robust differences of opinion and approach makes us stronger. Through team collaboration, we set out to develop a cohesive, carefully laddered programme across four years with 10 units and approximately 20 contributing staff.
In order to realise our aims together, we have had to make sure we communicate and collaborate openly and efficiently. Early on, we set a clear mission and values which serve as our foundation. We challenge one another to live these out while also allowing individuals to approach development in their own innovative, entrepreneurial and agile way. This approach allows the Centre to grow and adapt to the same uncertain, unpredictable times and events we are working to prepare the students for.
Through all of the challenges and lessons learned, students are always central to realising the Centre mission. A student-centred “engagement through partnership” approach is used where close collaboration and decision-making leads to joint ownership (Healey, Flint, Harrington 2014). Student opinions, perspectives and participation truly inform change. As we iterate and grow the courses, we constantly engage and work collaboratively with our students, empowering them to make decisions and own their educational and future career development.
The team at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Bristol is made of academics, entrepreneurs, designers and innovators. They bring their experiences in academia and industry into the classroom to design innovative programmes that enhance student employability and provide students with cutting-edge, engaging and inspirational learning experiences. Read more about the Centre’s winning CATE submission.