Future-ready students: The transformative impact of industry-integrated courses
This week, we invited Patrick Cannmo, Associate Dean of Education at Jönköping University in Sweden, to discuss the unique and innovative project initiated at their the School of Engineering. The project aims to enhance students’ knowledge of methods and tools in the product development process. What makes it special is its collaboration with Husqvarna, one of the largest companies in the region.
Settle in as we explore the journey of this project, its evolution over the years, the value it brings to both students and industry, and the skills it imparts.
In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:
Patrick, could you tell us more about this product development project?
I’m glad to. The project is organized as a 15-credit course in the bachelor engineering program, Product Development and Industrial Design, which is our main focus at the School of Engineering.
In 2013, we took the decision to include a large project course in the third year. This project and this course was first launched in 2015, and it has run every autumn since then.
It started and found its forms thanks to a devoted teacher with good industrial context as Husqvarna. We didn’t know exactly how to do this course. It was planned into this program syllabus, but thanks to this teacher, it found its forms and started, together with Husqvarna.
The purpose of this course is to further develop the students knowledge of methods and tools in the product development process. We thought that just taking theoretical courses on solid mechanics and engineering design was not enough, so we started this course with a focus on the industrial design of products and aspects from an engineering design point of view.
The students also learn how to work in a group by developing their own product and producing a CAD model and a functional model of it, together with people from Husqvarna.
Since it start in 2015, it’s major aim has been to bridge that gap between theory and practice that is so needed by students. How has the course evolved since its creation? Have there been any changes that have taken place or has it been a standout from the start?
One of the cornerstones of the success of this course is that we have been able to have more or less the same setup with the same devoted teacher with good contacts at Husqvarna.
But when I asked him, he said the course has developed from a rather soft start. We didn’t know exactly how this would turn out. What would Husqvarna think of it? How good could our students perform in such a sharp project?
According to him, we gave it a soft start with a smaller project and we tested the model. Over the years, we have seen that the projects have definitely developed to larger ones, which even can be confidential, real products that are secret not known to anyone else, but the students and the staff in the project.
We have also discovered over the years that the students know more and can do more things than what we initially thought. They grow confidence during this course and perform really well.
Talking about getting involved in a collaborative education, what is the value add for students versus the value add for Husqvarna in this initiative?
One of our teachers got an email from Andreas Ranget, who is the president for one of the divisions at Husqvarna Group. He said that this course is a clear win for them. They get the natural, direct dialogue with what he called an important university, which is flattering, they use this course to explore what future competence needs they see, and they also get important and natural direct contact with students and access to their creativity, driving force and knowledge throughout the course.
Finally, through the collaboration, they hopefully became an interesting and future employer for the students or an interesting company to do the degree project with.
For Husqvarna, it’s definitely a win situation, and for us it is too, because the course is unique in its kind. There are a lot of different project courses, but doing a project course like this so closely together with a such a big company is unique.
It gives the students real insight into Husqvarna’s working methods and challenges. They don’t learn it from a book, they learn it by being part of a real project, and they get continuous feedback on their work in what we call Joint Steering Groups. Students don’t report only to the teachers at JU School of Engineering, they also report to the engineers at Husqvarna.
The students get a chance to show off what they can do, and there is also a chance to continue working together, maybe as an internship, summer job, degree project, or even an employment after they have finished their studies. So I can definitely say that it’s a win-win-win situation for us, Husqvarna, and the students.
Building those contacts early is really crucial. How has the success of this course infiltrated or influenced other aspects of education in Jönköping?
Many other programs are looking at this course trying to do something similar. We had some examples over the last few years where other programs have tried this model together with another company. I definitely think that this is a very good way of performing a project course, but it requires teachers who are really committed and have knowledge and experience of working with large projects in the industry. According to our course manager, it’s also important for the teachers to have previous relationships with companies.
If you are an academic who has not been outside the university for 20 years, it will be very hard for you to do this kind of projects. You need to have trust and feel confident working with people in the industry, and they must think it’s both fun and that it’s improving their work as well.
What are the regular touchpoints between Husqvarna and Jönköping?
We have what we call Joint Steering Groups within this project, who own the it, but we have other contact points with Husqvarna.
They are one of our most important, strategic partners: They always have a lot of interns from us, they have a degree project work, guest lectures, and so on. We also have an industrial advisory board at the very top management level of the School of Engineering, and one of the advisors is from Husqvarna. Every program has their own smaller advisory board, and we have representatives from Husqvarna.
They also sponsor us in some ways, our student union, for example, receive funding from Husqvarna. There are a lot of points of contact with Husqvarna, so they are definitely an important partner to us.
What advice would you give to any other academic who is looking to implement a similar collaborative education initiative?
At first, you have to have the guts to put it in the syllabus and write the course syllabus, of course. That’s maybe the easy thing. If you have the power of taking such a decision, I definitely think you should do it because a large project course is definitely needed, especially in a product development, mechanical engineering or industrial design program.
That’s step one. Next step would be to find people who have commitment, who have the knowledge and the experience of working with projects in the industry. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a joint project, but you must have people in your organisation that have the commitment and know how to do a project on this scale. Because, at least in our case, much is based on the personal level. Find people at your organisation that have this devotion and have the contacts and previous relationship with companies and find people at the company who also think this is fun and that it improves their work.
Interested in more Insights like this?
You can learn more about student entrepreneurship and how to create programs that empower them to take their ideas from theory to real-world success, head now to our episode Future-proofing graduates: The role of entrepreneurship education.
If you are interested in how other organisations are building meaningful, strategic partnerships, you can read our latest member spotlight interview with Ulster Universtity in our article Driving deeper and stronger partnerships: Ulster University.
If you would like to be at the forefront of innovation, breaking the silos between universities and the private sector, but don’t know where to start, take a look at our infographic What does it mean to be a Boundary Spanning Agent? and learn more about the traits and competencies that can help you become that person.
Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!