Postgraduates and productivity

How universities and businesses are working together to stimulate growth

Take a young professional hungry for career development. Partner his or her bright ideas with the specialisms and research expertise of a university, then empower an innovative business to meet the challenges of sustaining economic growth head on.

It sounds like the kind of post-Brexit scheme that cabinet ministers had in mind when calling for Britain to reignite the energy and passion that drove its domination of world markets in the 19th century. A radical rethink of export strategies may well be on the cards, but government-backed collaborative projects  designed to improve competitiveness are nothing new - it’s just that few people outside of business and academic circles seem to know about them.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) have been helping UK businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity for the past 40 years. Drawing on the knowledge, technology and skills found in universities, the scheme provides a cost-effective way for organisations to access the specialist capacity and expertise required to embed new ideas, increase capabilities and drive growth strategies forward.

Statistics show that for every £1m of Government money invested in KTPs nationally, 25 new jobs are created and 353 staff are trained within companies; research and development sees an average investment of £3.1m; companies plough £2.2m into plant and machinery; and the economy benefits from a predicted post-project increase in annual pre-tax profit of £11.65m.

Where to get funding

“KTPs are an effective way for businesses eager for growth to embed new knowledge,” explains Clare Rowson, senior business development and KTP manager at The University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE Bristol).

“For many SMEs, the first hurdle is knowing where to turn for support and funding. The KTP programme simplifies all that.”

Dedicated teams within participating universities work with companies to identify their challenges, find the right expertise, scope projects and generate funding proposals. Businesses are fully involved in setting targets and selecting a candidate to work with them for between one and three years through a recruitment process led by the university.

The option of permanent employment

The chosen KTP associate – usually a recently qualified graduate or postgraduate – is employed directly by the university which receives a Government grant. The participating company then pays the difference between funded and actual costs and has the option to offer permanent employment at the end of the project (which 58 per cent take up).  

“These three-way partnerships take away the ‘pain’ of funding applications and recruitment from SMEs and ensure that everyone gains,” says, Clare, who is currently managing 10 funded KTPs at UWE Bristol.

“Companies upskill their staff and increase turnover and profits; young professionals get the chance to lead a major strategic project through to completion; and academic research is stimulated by new themes and first-hand experience of contemporary business challenges.”

Expertise in robotic production

Henry is a case in point.  That’s not the name of an associate, but the best known vacuum cleaner made by Numatic International which manufactures more than 4,000 products a day at its factory in Somerset for export throughout the world.

Keeping up with demand required the integration of more automated functions with those of human operators in order to increase productivity.  Cue the perfect KTP which, at the end of its two-year tenure, is on course to return a 25 per cent increase in efficiency while retaining the same number of employees and significantly reducing waste thanks to expertise in robotic production techniques transferred from Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

As Henry’s experience proves, KTPs have a valuable role to play in reigniting energy and passion.  The success stories speak for themselves.

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