University of Central Lancashire – Widening participation and regional engagement
We would like to warmly welcome our new Initiator member, University of Central Lancashire, to the UIIN community. We sat down with Dr. Alexis Holden, Director of Research and Enterprise Service and Professor StJohn Crean, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise to discuss how they approach external engagement, hear about some of their successes across their campuses and understand what brought them to UIIN.
The University of Central Lancashire first began as “the Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge” in 1828 and today is an international multi-campus university that prides itself on its commitment to access and widening participation. Though spread across several campuses – Preston, Burnley, Westlakes, as well as a satellite campus in Cyprus, and a presence in Hong Kong and Mauritius – UCLan has a unified approach to university-business-collaboration. Since their establishment, they have developed a reputation for their expertise in health and their large engineering portfolio, including being a leading proponent of drone technology in the Northwest. Besides this, their regional footprint demonstrates their dedication to Lancashire communities and to external engagement. They are currently a leader of the Lancashire Skills Pledge for Universities, an initiative to future-proof the talent pipeline for businesses and simultaneously offer work placements and upskilling opportunities to students from the wider community.
We’re here for the region, the region needs a workforce, the region needs skills, and we can’t rely on universities elsewhere to provide it for us”.
UCLan boasts an impressive engagement portfolio; their Centre for SME and Enterprise Development has an estimated 400 companies in its network. The University has successfully secured European funding for upskilling, apprenticeship and investment projects over the past years all focussed on providing support for SMEs. Their Engineering Innovation Centre located on their ‘mother campus’ of Preston provides a space for practice-oriented research, teaching, and learning together with commercial partners. The culture of “driving student innovation and real world learning” at UClan that StJohn tells of is evident through their initiatives like Propellor, which provides space, training and advice to students, graduates and university staff who are looking to set up their own businesses, and Creative Innovation Zone (CIZ), whereby businesses have the opportunity to recruit students to deliver innovative and interdisciplinary solutions to industry problems. CIZ has attracted industry giants such as the BBC and BAE and the program recently won the Business/Industry Collaboration-University Sector award at the 2022 Educate North Awards. In the past, Alexis and StJohn discuss that UCLan collaborations with businesses have mostly been in the form of transactional projects, however they are now approaching their relationships more strategically and creating dialogues with businesses that nurture more long-term engagement.
National funding and public perception pose the biggest challenge for UCLan, according to Alexis. Businesses often have a certain image of universities and associate that with the Russell Group universities and in order to develop that view and expand the portfolio of provider to businesses, UCLan are working towards raising their profile, “letting people know what we can do and what we can deliver, rather than what they think we can do and deliver”. Though Brexit created unique challenges for the university in bringing a halt to European funding streams, it also gave them the opportunity to re-consider their offerings to SMEs and showcase how they can support them in the dimensions of upskilling, workforce and product development, and business health.
Drawn to the global network that UIIN offers, UCLan are interested in understanding the common challenges that exist among their peers, sharing their own experiences, and learning best practices. Alexis mentions they are particularly curious to hear how other
universities have embedded student entrepreneurial topics into their curricula, in particular different types of models. In addition, they are interested in understanding how their peers approach and balance the activities of academics – delivering teaching, research and knowledge exchange – and pose the question: Are universities looking for different types of academics, or is there an ‘all-rounder’ academic?
It’s also useful to see and understand what other people are doing and understand their challenges and where they’ve been successful. So, it’s just being part of that supportive community, I think that was one of the main attractions”.
UCLan are delighted to be a part of UIIN’s worldwide community that are looking to find solutions for a healthier and more sustainable world going forward.
Banner image credits: BDP.com
Other image credits: UCLan