The UK economy is growing at its fastest rate since before the financial crisis, but sustaining growth will be dependent on business working more closely with universities and business schools, according to the CBI, Britain’s employers’ organization.
Business schools place much value in their career connections. PwC, KPMG and Rolls-Royce have all developed closer ties with leading educators in a bid to hire new talent.
MBA and masters programs are often criticized for being too long on theory and too short on practical experience, but by working more closely with companies they can help to bridge the gap between education and employment.
Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills policy, said many large companies already know the value of such tie-ups but it is important that more businesses follow suit.
“This could ultimately help them to expand and boost jobs, and even create new industries through product innovation,” he said.
For companies, it gives them access to new talent and ideas, and can help to reduce costs and mitigate risk, particularly for smaller firms.
Top business schools in the UK including Durham University Business School and London’s Imperial College Business School have developed partnerships with leading employers. MBA students value the opportunities to tap into potential jobs and internships.
“It is important that businesses work more and more with universities to increase understanding, share knowledge and best practice, and create innovative shared learning opportunities,” said Paul Schoonenberg, who manages MBA careers at Aston Business School.
He said Aston is trying to further strengthen relationships with local and international businesses: "Whether that be through providing consulting or work experience, mentoring, funding initiatives, or connecting MBAs with a wider choice of career-related opportunities," he added.
A 2014 CBI/Pearson survey of UK companies found that far more firms planned to increase their investment in employee training and development than the number who plan to cut back.
As a result, increasing numbers of businesses are now working with top business schools.
Jaguar Land Rover, the British automobile company, which has been expanding in the UK on the back of growth in production, has teamed up with eight universities to support its future product strategy and low-carbon technologies.
The car-maker offers skills development through different learning modules, which can be combined to equal an MSc from one of its partner universities.
Jo Lopes, Jaguar Land Rover head of technical excellence, said it was a “significant investment” by the company. “But the return on investment is huge, with the program paying for itself twice over in money and in time saved,” he said.
Saudi petrochemical giant SABIC has partnered with Teesside University to offer executive masterclasses for managers, and technical masterclasses for the pharmaceutical sectors.
Kathryn Harper, career development specialist at SABIC, said the training helps compound the perception that managers can build a long and rewarding career at the state-controlled petrochemicals producer.
“Highly trained and developed managers are key to the success of our business, and our ability to achieve our aims,” she said.
Arup Group, the UK-based professional services firm, works with masters students on management and innovation programs at University College London, said Marta Fernandez, global research leader.
It helps the firm, known for its engineering consultancy work, to assess the feasibility of early stage ideas in its corporate venturing portfolio – a collection of investments in external start-up companies.
“It was an enriching experience for both the students and our in-house entrepreneurs,” Marta said.
The added value to students means that other universities and business schools are keen to cosy up to large businesses.
Lancaster University Management School has connections with oil major BP, technology group IBM and financial services companies Deutsche Bank and Barclays, according to Andrew Bagshaw, the school’s MBA career relationship manager.
“The practical element of working with businesses is core to our program,” he said.
James Hickie, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at Manchester Business School, said it’s important to link both students and academics with both small and large companies. “We are always looking to broaden the range of links,” he said.
Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, said its partnerships with companies including Halifax, the UK bank, and supermarket chain Asda, owned by US retail giant Walmart, have “seen staff becoming re-skilled, creating home-grown talent and opening more doors for future company leaders”.
There is also a significant opportunity for companies to tap into leading academic business research. Neil at the CBI said developing world-class university research will give the UK a competitive advantage in the global economy.
“Firms can reduce research and development costs and develop staff skills, while universities can generate new ideas to train students and get a greater awareness of the needs of the marketplace,” he added.
In the three academic years up to 2012-2013, the amount spent by businesses on contract research at UK universities grew at an annual rate of more than 6%, according to the CBI.
The UK now accounts for 6.4% of all articles in the world’s academic journals, the CBI said.
Research is particularly important for UK business schools because they determine levels of future government funding for business and management research.
According to the latest UK government assessment, the Research Excellence Framework, more than 50% of research activities at the business schools at Cambridge and Oxford, as well as at London Business School and the London School of Economics, were considered world-leading.
Seagate Technology, a leading manufacturer of hard disc drives that is based in Northern Ireland, tapped into Queen’s University Belfast's research to establish a centre for the company’s R&D.
Seagate provided £7.5 million worth of equipment in 2010, and funding and support for a £1.7 million collaborative research project with the university.
Brendan Lafferty, R&D director at Seagate, said interactions with academic partners are a mechanism for technological innovation, and help to develop skilled staff.
Other large companies have invested significant sums into UK universities and business schools to drive research.
AQR Capital, the US asset manager, provided £10 million in funding for London Business School to launch an asset management research institute in January this year.
Professional services firm KPMG invested £20 million in Imperial College Business School in 2014 to establish a new Centre for Advanced Business Analytics.
KPMG wants to place the UK at the forefront of data science. Big data services have provided a lucrative revenue stream for its advisory business.
It is part of a wider bid to scoop up a new wave of management talent. Maksim Belitski, a professor at Henley Business School, said that MBA students are like “gold dust” to businesses nearby. “Companies compete to get the MBA students,” he added.