Driving deeper and stronger partnerships: Ulster University
We were delighted to speak with Karen Delgado (Deputy Director of Alumni & Corporate Engagement) and Tania Carlisle (Corporate Engagement Partner) who discussed, among other things, the value of using UIIN to benchmark themselves against other institutions and learn about best practice in other institutions.
As a regional university, how do you approach engagement with both communities and industry?
We are a values and purpose led organisation with a new University strategy: People, Place and Partnership which seeks to unlock our collective potential to deliver Sustainable Futures for All.
Over 40% of the students at Ulster University come from Widening Access backgrounds and for many students, they are the first in their family to attend university. We work closely with our communities for example ten years before our new Belfast campus development opened to students and the University agreed a formal Community Framework with people and organisations in the area to make sure our expanded presence will drive responsible regeneration and be of benefit to all. As part of this we developed a Community Scholarship program with our industry partners to help less-advantaged students access Higher Education.
Our partners not only want to work with us on business focused innovation projects or talent pipelines, but they also love seeing the positive social impact our partnerships can have on their local community. Ulster University is deeply committed to being a partner with and for business as set out in our new People, Place, Partnership strategy which centers on building sustainable futures for all.
Our partners not only want to work with us on business focused innovation projects or talent pipelines, but they also love seeing the positive social impact our partnerships can have on their local community.
How do Ulster University’s alumni play a role in your industry engagement?
We now have over 250,000 alumni spread across the world, however we have quite a unique footprint as 80% of our alumni remain in Northern Ireland after graduation. What this means is that when we speak to a business in the region there is a very high chance that there are alumni working in their company, and they want to engage with us at an individual and organisational level. An outcome from this deep embedding of alumni in the private sector is that we have a significant number of companies engaging with our teaching and learning activities through guest lectures, student challenges and industry insights.
We see our alumni as life partners of the university. It’s not only about them continuing their personal learning journey with the university, but also as an active advocate throughout their careers, bringing our interns and graduates into their companies, supporting scholarships, and driving collaborative research and innovation projects.
In terms of current students, we also have over 2000 students on work placements or internships every year, meaning that you can walk into a huge percentage of businesses across Northern Ireland and you’ll find our students already embedded in the workforce. In fact, our interns often find that they will have an Ulster University graduate mentoring them on their placement and a wider alumni network ready to tap into. To build on this, we are currently piloting more formal alumni ‘chapters’ with some of our larger industry partners, building on the organic networks that already exist in their workforces.
We see our alumni as life partners of the university. It’s not only about them continuing their personal learning journey with the university, but also as an active advocate throughout their careers.
What are some challenges you have been faced with in terms of driving industry-engagement?
Pace can be a major challenge to new partnerships. With almost 3,000 employees at Ulster University across four sites and a broad range of courses it can take time to connect with the right people for a specific project, and of course our business partners want to move fast!
Speaking with colleagues last year at the UIIN conference, we found there are many common challenges such as integrating partnership activities across a big organisation, sharing knowledge, finding the right opportunities to meet the business need, and trying to articulate the strategic impact of corporate engagement. It is difficult to capture the many transformational outcomes industry-engagement generates, particularly in the long term, but being able to demonstrate the value of our industry partnerships is key to identifying future opportunities and growing success.
What frameworks or considerations help shape your institutional approach to partnerships?
We have a mantra, “deeper, stronger, broader partnerships.” “Deeper” focuses on the strategic institutional approach and the impact on the region. The ‘stronger’ element is about trying to have a multi-threaded approach to the partnerships we already have, for example, rather than partnering with a company solely on scholarships, we sit down with them and talk about what else they could do – perhaps they might like to be involved in curriculum development through joining an Employer Advisory Board? “Broader” simply relates to business development and increasing the number of corporate partners we work with.
In our Team we also use the acronym “PRIME” as a useful internal framework for developing strong partnerships:
- Partnering: centering responsible business and social impact to make a difference together in our community
- Recruitment: this covers all aspects of the talent pipeline including schools outreach programmes
- Innovation: enabling collaborative research projects, and articulating the impact of our work
- Motivating: we aim to be a permeable organisation, with students actively engaging with industry and industry professionals embedded in the university’s teaching and learning to develop industry ready graduates
- Empowering: encouraging lifelong professional development and including flexible learning
Although Ulster University is already very strong in this area, we know there is still great potential to develop. Our next steps are to continue to formalise our own processes, and to keep learning about how other universities successfully navigate industry partnerships.
Tania Carlisle and Karen Delgado
Ready for more?
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like our podcast series on Strategic Partnerships. You can also learn more about how other universities around the world manage their external relationships in our member spotlight series.
Lauren Kroemer-Pope (interviewer) is the Outreach and Partnerships Specialist at UIIN.
Madeline Arkins (editor) is a Project Officer at UIIN. In her work she focuses on topics relating to social impact and innovation in regional ecosystems.