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May 09, 2013

Universities do respond to business in the UK: Professor Dame Julia King

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Image of a monument at the Birmingham Bullring, United Kingdom.

In the UK this year an amazing collection of examples of the impact of universities on the business world is being put together for our Research Excellence Framework exercise. If there was any real doubt about the value of university contributions to economic growth and business success these stories will dispel the myth. From major corporations siting their R&D facilities inside and alongside universities to ensure that their technology is at the cutting edge, to tiny companies having their immediate challenges solved by high quality advice from experts, the spectrum of different ways of working together that is evidenced by this exercise is impressive.

Too often universities are criticised for not providing employable graduates. In our current economic climate, undergraduates and postgraduates are even more actively engaged in seeking real experience of working with businesses through placements, collaborative research and increasingly setting up their own start-up companies. The evidence, from our programmes at Aston University, is very strong that incorporating extended placement activity within an undergraduate course increases the employability of the student and allows an ‘extended interview’ process for the employer. Universities are working hard to improve employability skills but we also need businesses to create high quality opportunities for placements. And it is easy to overlook the value of new graduates’ expertise in social media to enhance the marketing and innovation capability of companies – a skill which is second nature to them.

Big companies know how to get value from universities and there are real challenges for smaller companies. At Aston, our research suggests that medium-sized companies – around 20-50 employees – may hold the key to growth. The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme, led for the Midlands by Aston Business School, is supporting entrepreneur-led small and medium-sized business to expand and grow. We are now working with our fourth cohort of companies, with over 120 ‘graduates’ joining an alumni and networking organisation. There is a real thirst amongst these businesses to super charge their strategies for expansion. All have distinctive products or brands, have identified new markets, are generating revenue and improving their cash position. But they have not previously thought of bringing forward their five or ten year plan to exploit favourable market opportunities. The programme gives them the confidence and the ability to do just that, with practical help to improve financial planning, customer segmentation and marketing. After 18 months the programme has attracted a wide range of companies, from partners in the automotive supply chain to creative and digital agencies, social enterprises and food service brands. The learning and teaching methods involve total commitment, engagement and immersion; these are practical sessions not lectures.

The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme is a leading example of how a research-led university, with real world applicable knowledge, is able to work together with entrepreneur-led business to create growth and employment. The expertise of Aston University in bringing enterprise to the fore has been recognised by the creation of the UK’s first Enterprise Research Centre – in partnership with The University of Warwick – which will help many other businesses benefit from success.

The Centre will also have a significant role in advising government around strategies for growth, so we are confident that in the near future, medium-sized business may get the attention and support it warrants.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.


Professor Dame Julia King DBE FREng, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University (UK)

Professor Dame Julia King DBE FREng, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University (UK)After sixteen years as an academic researcher and university lecturer at Cambridge and Nottingham universities, Julia King joined Rolls-Royce plc in 1994. At Rolls-Royce she held a number of senior executive appointments, including Director of Advanced Engineering for the Industrial Power Group, Managing Director of the Fan Systems Business, and Engineering Director for the Marine Business. In 2002, Julia became Chief Executive of the Institute of Physics, and in 2004 she returned to academia as Principal of the Engineering Faculty at Imperial College, London. In December 2006 she became Vice-Chancellor of Aston University.

Julia is a member of the Board of UniversitiesUK and Chair of its Employability, Business & Industry Policy Network, and a Council member of the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council.

Main image: Birmingham Bullring. Source: Flickr. Published under the creative commons license.

November 26, 2012

Aeneas Wilder competition

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Artist Aeneas WilderJust 56 days after it was created, Aeneas Wilder’s latest artwork, #162, will be ceremonially kicked to the ground by the artist this Saturday, 1 December, at the Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry.

The ‘Kick Down’ is where Wilder (pictured left), a Scottish installation artist, brings in an element of performance to his exhibitions. Wilder’s ‘Kick Downs’ are exclusive affairs and all the public tickets for this event have now gone. The Knowledge Centre has, however, been given two pairs of tickets to give away so that four lucky winners can experience this once in a lifetime event.

To stand a chance of winning a pair of these tickets, simply answer the following question:

Q) How many days did it take Aeneas Wilder to create #162? (Hint: read ‘What Goes Up, Must Come Down: A podcast interview with artist Aeneas Wilder’ for a clue).

Email us at with your answer, name and contact details. The competition closes at 2pm on Friday 30 November 2012 and entries will be drawn out of a hat that afternoon. Please include a mobile telephone number with your entry.

Full details of the 'Kick Down' are available on the Warwick Arts Centre website.

November 13, 2012

What is in an acronym? WIDS 2012

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WIDS 2012 US_Navy Haitian workers Port-Au-Prince international airport
Haitian workers move cooking oil supplied by United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID) at a distribution centre at Port-Au-Prince international airport. Image c/o Wikicommons.

Higher education is full of acronyms – from HEFCE and BIS at the government/funding end through to the likes of ‘WBL’ and UWWO that students at the University of Warwick might come across during their time on campus.

Sometimes, once the acronym is spelled out, the purpose of the phrase or organisation is self-evident (WBL is work-based learning and UWWO is the University of Warwick Wind Orchestra if you haven’t already googled the terms). But over the past month there’s one acronym that keeps popping up at Warwick that I’ve struggled to get my head around. It’s ‘WIDS’ – the Warwick International Development Society. It’s not because the group’s badly named or that I’ve not come international development before, it’s just that the acronym and name cannot fully sum up all of the ideas and work that WIDS embraces. It’s a failing of the English language rather than a poor choice of name. WIDS is the student society equivalent of ‘Espirit d'escalier’1 or ‘Tatemae and honne’2. Sadly, the English language lacks a succinct term that fully sums up the work, aspirations and feelings involved in WIDS.

Think about it, what comes to mind when you say ‘international development’? Is it a mixture of:

  • Community-based development
  • Poverty reduction
  • Sustainable development
  • Self-sustainability
  • International relations

WIDS as a society covers all this but it does so much more. It:

The upcoming summit, taking place this weekend, is promoted as providing “an intellectual platform to discuss and present original means of tackling these diverse issues. [WIDS] strives to involve a range of speakers from varying backgrounds and distinct perspectives, as well as engage students from across the globe to form a truly international summit”.

If you take a look at the WIDS website, you can see that this year’s summit is clearly aiming high on the guest speaker front.

Jeffrey Sachs speaking at WIDS 2012Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute (left), Columbia University and Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will be speaking to the summit via video conference. Professor Sachs, who is also co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, is one of the world’s leading economists and has been named as one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" twice. Amongst the many people who work closely with Professor Sachs is U2 frontman Bono. Speaking of Sachs, the singer said “In time, his autograph will be worth a lot more than mine.”

WIDS 2012 World Bank Managing Director Mahmoud MohieldinOther speakers at WIDS 2012 include the head of the World Bank Group, Mahmoud Mohieldin (left); Meghnad Desai, Emeritus Professor of Economics, London School of Economics and Labour Peer in the House of Lords; and Professor Alan Winters of the University of Sussex. The full list of speakers is on the WIDS website.

The variety of those presenting talks this weekend speaks very highly of the students involved in WIDS and their ability to both approach interesting speakers and convince them to give up their time in the hope of finding new answers to some very old questions.

Bengali famine 1943
Bengali famine 1943. Image c/o Wikicommons.

I’ll be attending the conference, running from Friday evening (16 November) to Sunday (18 November). Hopefully I’ll see you there but, if not, I’ll be producing an overview for the Knowledge Centre to accompany some audio-visual content from the Summit later this month.

1 Espirit d'escalier is a French phrase for the moment when you come up with the perfect verbal comeback but too late for it to be of any use.

2 Honne and tatemae are Japanese words for ‘what you choose to believe/publically display’ and ‘what you actually believe’ respectively.

November 06, 2012

Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!

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The wizard of Oz 1939
If I only had the nerve: (L-R) Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland and Bert Lahr (Image c/o Wikimedia Commons)

Have you ever taken part in an ice breaking exercise where you put a few facts about yourself in a hat, leaving your name off so you remain anonymous, and your colleagues take turns picking out the pieces of paper and before guessing who’s who? It’s more fun than it sounds and I’ve got more than my fair share of personal facts to drop in the hat. I’ve lived opposite a tiger (called Mike), I played the cowardly lion in a production of the Wizard of Oz at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry and I’ve been called upon by MTV to be an expert interviewee on al-Qaeda.

They’re all true. One of those items would be enough of an anecdote to get you through a party but I seem to collect stories like other people collect wine. I did a reasonable Bert Lahr impression and survived the tiger encounter (although it’s much less exciting when you know it was in a cage). Unfortunately, my knowledge of Middle Eastern politics is limited and is gained from Channel 4 News and The Observer. It turns out there’s another Gareth Jenkins and he’s also a journalist. He’s an expert on Middle Eastern politics and terrorism and, for obvious reasons, he tends to keep a low profile. Me? I’ve spent my career working with blue chip companies or interviewing celebrities about their favourite cheeses. I also like social media and the web and have a very snazzy website that anyone can find to contact me – including MTV.

It took some time to convince the TV researcher that I wasn’t the Gareth Jenkins she was looking for (it’s surprising difficult to demonstrate that you’re not an expert in a field, especially if the real expert is purposefully keeping a low profile). Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’m also not the former head coach of the Welsh rugby team either.

Whilst the other Gareth Jenkins’ seemingly have exciting, international lives, I’m reasonably satisfied with mine and where I now find myself. I love writing, I’d say it’s my area of expertise, and it’s great to be working with academics who are just as passionate about the field they’re proficient in. Hopefully, in my time as the Knowledge Centre’s online writer I’ll write something eye catching so I’ll be able to say ‘Yes, I’m that Gareth Jenkins’ when MTV phones up again.

August 03, 2012

Hello From the New Online Writer

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Hello! I’m Francesca Tenenbaum, and I’m one of the new Online Writers for The Knowledge Centre. I’m a Warwick graduate, and read Modern Languages and Literature here a couple of years ago. Clearly, I loved campus life so much that I just couldn’t stay away.

My first week here may have just come to a close, but in a few days I have interviewed the deputy-manager of the IMF, Dr Nemat Shafik, Dr Saskia Sassen from the university of Columbia, learnt what polymer technology is, and begun to write about current University research into the uses of Cloud technology for local SMEs. Oh, and written about the Asian Financial Crisis. No big deal.

Even though I’ve worked as a writer for a few years already, working for the Knowledge Centre, at least if my first week is anything to go by, is going to be an incredible way to broaden my experience, and bridge the gap (for an old school Humanities student like me) between my own interests and all of the other incredible research that takes place here at Warwick.

I’m really looking forward to researching and writing features about my own areas of academic interest (in particular: anything Shakespeare-related or anything about Italian literature and culture) but also broadening my own insights into everything that is happening here at the University. And, of course, bringing that content to the Knowledge Centre’s readers.

Happy reading!

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