Keele awarded funding to increase student-led knowledge exchange

The Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence (KIITE) has been successful in gaining significant funding from the Office for Students and Research England to develop innovative approaches to student-led knowledge exchange, and to increase engagement in knowledge exchange activities for students from disadvantaged communities.

A total of £10 million has been awarded to 20 universities and colleges to projects which will seek to understand the benefits to students of getting involved in partnerships with businesses, engagement with communities and third sector organisations, and professional training – collectively known as ‘knowledge exchange’ activities.

The project, ‘Student Knowledge Exchange Re-imagined - Removing the barriers, engaging communities’, has been awarded over £920,000 in funding, and will be led by Keele University, in partnership with the University of Birmingham. The project will develop best practice and expertise in the delivery of knowledge exchange through a set of initiatives including civic internships, student consultancies, virtual placements, international opportunities, enterprise challenges, and curriculum design that embeds student knowledge exchange. The project will also propose an evaluative framework tool to analyse the impact of student-led knowledge exchanges.

Building on the Keele Research and Innovation Support Programme (KRISP) and University of Birmingham programmes, the project will develop successful, complementary approaches to knowledge exchange, prioritising disadvantaged students, service learning and digital delivery. The project will demonstrate what works, focusing on sustainability, regional economic impact, and delivering external benefits such as enhanced employability for students, and solutions to business challenges.

Dr Rafe Hallett, Director of KIITE, commented:

“This exciting project opens up so many avenues for the kind of education and opportunity we want to deliver at Keele. It offers momentum to develop a truly civic curriculum, in line with our New Keele Deal strategy, and to think in fresh ways about the ways students engage with regional, national and international workplaces.”

The project will provide evidence of the ways in which knowledge exchange activities directly involve and benefit students, and will demonstrate approaches that optimise student benefits, building and enhancing effective knowledge exchange practice, and making frameworks and evaluation methods portable and accessible to the higher education sector. A key priority of the project will be to tackle the evidenced challenges of equality of opportunity within existing knowledge exchange activities, reducing barriers to student participation and success.

Through innovative use of virtual environments, the project aims to address the barriers that stop many time-poor students from participating in more traditional knowledge exchange activities, due to the demands of juggling academic commitments with, for example, part-time work, caring responsibilities, and voluntary work.

Dr Hallett continued:

“A specific strand of funding will develop virtual placements, and civic internships that can operate remotely as well as face-to-face: these innovations speak to our immediate context of distance learning as well as providing exciting modes of student-led knowledge exchange for the future.”

Terry Dray, Director for Employability and Employer Engagement in KIITE commented:

“This project directly addresses the question of students as agents, co-deliverers and beneficiaries of knowledge exchange, and will support more students to benefit from knowledge exchange, ensuring effective practice for the benefit of the entire higher education sector. With a goal of engaging 850 students, this project will build on Keele’s strong history of delivering knowledge exchange activities, taking a progressive approach by seeking to double the economic impact of the University at a regional level. Our track record to date of knowledge exchange activity has resulted in £14m of additional Gross Value Added (employment impact only), assistance to over 400 local organisations, and delivery of over 500 Santander-funded internships.”

The project will also build on existing start-up capacity and develop knowledge exchange by increasing the number of student/graduate start-ups. New centres for start-ups and innovation at each university - Keele’s Smart Innovation Hub and The Exchange at the University of Birmingham - will support students to interact with businesses.

Terry added:

“The focus on enterprise and entrepreneurship will increase the number of student and graduate start-ups, providing sustainable solutions to challenges faced by regional businesses and not-for-profit organisations, with Keele’s Smart Innovation Hub using project resources for seed funding and boot camps, supporting students to deploy lean start-up techniques.”

Sue Welland, Acting Director Careers and Employability at The University of Birmingham commented:

“We are delighted to have secured this successful award, partnering with Keele University. This will enable us to enhance our existing best practice in Knowledge Exchange, working with our regional and international partners, to deliver innovative interventions between students and business and identify the impact of such activities. This will include the opportunity for our students to develop entrepreneurial skills for the future world of work which will be delivered within our new City Centre presence, The University of Birmingham The Exchange.”

The project will work with public sector partners including Staffordshire County Council, Birmingham City Council, Stoke on Trent City Council, Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce, South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce, University of New South Wales, University of Southern Tennessee, City-REDI and NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Centre, and is also supported by investment from Keele University and the University of Birmingham, and will benefit from external support from Santander.

Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice-Chancellor at Keele University and Chair of the Knowledge Exchange Steering Group, commented:

“This is a very important project for Keele and our local communities. The current Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated how we can respond to critical needs for the economy and those we work with locally and further afield. This is at the heart of the Knowledge Exchange Framework and Knowledge Exchange Concordat that I have been working on with Research England and Universities UK, and the involvement of students in the knowledge exchange relationships benefits the projects as well as providing invaluable experience for the students themselves.”

To find out more about the OfS Knowledge Exchange projects, visit the OfS website.