Industry Links

Partnering with industry: more than just a logo to help recruit students?

Universities can develop new postgraduate courses quickly, and increase their relevance, by making industry partners integral to the development process

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Involving industry in the development of postgraduate courses can help an institute create a course that stands out. Photograph: Sascha Schuermann/AFP/Getty Images

With graduate employability remaining high on the agenda, many universities are seeing a greater demand, both from students and industry, for more career-focused postgraduate degrees. But how much scope is there to do something different with postgraduate courses and – given the economic necessity – how can universities build new courses to a professional standard both quickly and efficiently?

One answer is to use industry partners. Just over a year ago, a little-known school within Birminghan City University, called New Technology Institute Birmingham, started asking advertising agencies, such as McCann Erickson, Golly Slater and Saatchi & Saatchi, what they looked for in new recruits, where they found most graduates lacking, and what needed to be done to fix this.

“The companies we spoke to said that above all, they needed creative, ambitious graduates and entry-level employees able to work across digital communications and transmedia,” says NTI Birmingham director Sara Middleton. “Not only this, but new recruits needed the knowledge and confidence to not just contribute to, but manage projects across mobile, TV and digital.”

Skip forward to September and NTI Birmingham will be running a masters degree developed as a result of that consultation – ‘Future Media: Pro‘ (MA/MSc). From those initial conversations, several partner companies have emerged, with global communications agency McCann Erickson, co-designing the course to accurately reflect skills gaps in the sector, thus reducing the time needed to shape the course to reflect employers’ demands.

“We find that many graduates lack a real world application of theories they’ve learned at university when applying to McCann Erickson,” says Gray Dudek, managing director of the agency’s digital wing. Tina Judic, managing director of search and social marketing agency Found, and another Future Media partner, tells a similar story: “Physical hands-on experience is sadly where we see most graduates lacking. Yet there are many opportunities for students, graduates and those looking for a change in career to immerse themselves into digital”.

Similar in structure to its sister course Gamer Camp, Future Media students will be emersed in a digital marketing agency environment within NTI Birmingham, working ‘nine-to-five,’ four days a week, on live briefs from the partner companies, all within their own dedicated studio space.

“We go with a ‘T-shaped model’,” explains Sara Middleton. “We start by delivering the broad generic skills that students need – the bar across the top of the T – before drilling down to the more in-depth skills they’ll need for a specific career. It’s still vitally important that those broader skills are delivered though. It makes the individual more employable, and enables them then to adapt to new technology as and when it arrives. It’s not about teaching new technology, it’s about students understanding the process.”

Making Future Media relevant outside of HE didn’t stop with the course design; course tutor Mark Brill, a mobile marketing consultant, was sourced directly from the industry. “Future Media: Pro brings a practical understanding and real world experience,” he says, stressing the importance of student’s live briefs and development projects. “Using the skills they learn during the course, they will be tasked with delivering a project in a commercial environment. So, by the end of Future Media: Pro, students will have gained the skills and portfolio necessary for working in the world of business.”

The speed at which the Future Media course was developed was down to seeing partner organisations as more than just a logo to help recruit students, but integral to ensuring a course’s relevance throughout its development. By enabling partner organisations to share their recruitment experiences and have an active say in how the course was designed, Birmingham City University was able to develop a postgraduate course quickly while maintaining high academic standards and industry relevance.

“For us, it’s more about creating running starts for the individuals involved on each course, than creating a pre-defined professional,” says McCann’s Gray Dudek. “We need variety in the talent pool and people who think differently to their peers to continually give the best solutions to clients, but we also need all the talent to understand the fundamentals.”

David Allen is creative projects manager at NTI Birmingham. He tweets as @BrummieDave

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, become a member of the Higher Education Network.

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