Giving graduates a head start in business

Increasing the flow of talent and supporting local enterprise are crucial for tackling the regional skills deficit. Here’s how universities are zoning in on local successes

The value of a university education is under scrutiny more than ever before. With living costs encouraging study closer to home, real world skills a CV must-have, tuition fees under review and spotlights shining on direct links between degree programmes and career prospects, it’s little wonder that students, employers and politicians are all demanding more.

For many, the answer lies in students and graduates joining an integrated, vibrant, diverse knowledge community right on their doorstep. A place where skills and intelligence are gleaned directly from local business leaders, where every student is deemed an entrepreneur and new expertise and enthusiasm is ploughed straight back into the region’s economy.

One of the country’s first university enterprise zones

That’s precisely the scenario being played out in Bristol where one of the country’s first university enterprise zones has opened its doors for business.         

The West of England University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) is a £16.5m project led by The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) in partnership with the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Supported by £4m of government investment with match funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership, business community and UWE Bristol itself, the zone is expected to create more than 500 new jobs and boost the local economy by £50m.

UWE Bristol is one of the UK’s civic universities committed to equipping graduates with the kind of up-to-the-minute qualifications and entrepreneurial mindsets that provide a head start when it comes to finding employment.

Every bit as passionate about research as their traditional counterparts, civic universities educate 25 per cent of all students in the UK, taking an interdisciplinary, contemporary approach focused on the direct needs of industry and the professions. The ivory towers of more elite institutions are not for them: these universities immerse themselves and their students in an extensive network of local government and business partnerships directly aligned to employability and economic growth.

A hub that brings together business leaders and academics

At UWE Bristol this means recruiting almost four in 10 students from home turf and equipping graduates with the skills to support and sustain the city’s growth in key sectors including digital, engineering, professional services, health, aerospace, green technology and the creative industries.

A key part of the West of England UEZ is Future Space, a hub that brings together business leaders and academics specialising in the fields of robotics and autonomous systems, biosciences, health science and related sectors.

Located on the UWE Bristol campus, adjacent to the UK’s largest robotic laboratory, the 4,000 square metre building is capable of accommodating 70 new enterprises. Crucially, Future Space provides unique access to laboratories and other research facilities, technical expertise and business support as part of a package rarely within the grasp of new and growing businesses. The accommodation is spacious and the dynamic environment fuelled by ambition, communication and a shared sense of purpose.

This well-embedded culture of innovation and future investment is underpinned by a fundamental attribute: collaboration.

Round-table discussions between creatives, academics, funding bodies and employers have sown the seeds of a white paper examining how the competitiveness of a regional knowledge economy owes so much to the talent that is developed there.

Innovation is crucial – but it’s the skills to support and sustain growth which really make things happen. 

*This content was written and controlled by the University of the West of England

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