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Universities and small businesses lose out by not working together

Universities and small businesses have much to offer each other – but can’t always see beyond their biases – according to a new report launched by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

The report outlines the findings from a series of projects supported through the UK Futures Programme testing how local ‘anchor institutions’, such as universities, can use their expertise and influence to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills in small businesses. In so doing, anchor institutions stand to gain:

  • An opportunity to tackle local skills issues and tailor to the needs of the local economy;
  • Develop relationships with new partners that could support the evolving devolution agenda;
  • An additional market for trading expertise among small, ambitious businesses.

Universities in particular may be put off developing offers for small firms because of a bias that it is a difficult market to serve with varying needs. The Federation of Small Businesses has recently recommended universities could overcome these biases to develop a more systematic offer for small businesses. On the other side, our projects show some small businesses have their own biases about universities and are wary of academic learning styles they thought universities were offering. But universities in this programme fought back by delivering essential management skills through ‘hands-on’ learning methods. Teesside University brought in a range of partners to help deliver their leadership programme to small firms in the area, including the Drama Department.

Elaine Hooker, at Teesside University says:

“‘Leading Roles’ was our most popular session with the most favourable feedback from businesses. It was a performance masterclass which uses theatre and drama to explore key issues in leadership and management. The group were able to share knowledge and experience in a creative and professionally structured context and expand their range of skills in: emotional intelligence and rapport, effective and inspired communication and self-presentation, handling conflict, sensitive issues and difficult conversations. I think they were surprised that as a university we taught in that way, but universities have long since taken on board that there are many different learning techniques, we need to get that message out more widely.”

The Author

Gemma Gaughan
Media Researcher
BiP Solutions

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The Author

Gemma Gaughan
Media Researcher
BiP Solutions

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