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The powerhouse of the North

Connecting students to business is just one of the ways management schools are improving the area’s prospects

Lucy Hodges
Wednesday 24 June 2015 13:32 BST
MediaCityUK is a focus for digital creativity in Manchester
MediaCityUK is a focus for digital creativity in Manchester (Alamy)

The Government has pledged to "make the cities of the North a powerhouse for our economy again" and is prepared to invest significantly to make it a reality. But are business schools in the north of England well placed to play their part in helping to rebalance the economy away from the South East?

The answer is an overwhelming yes, according to the schools. They have been working with industry for a long time and welcome the new focus, but they are keen not to become isolated by it.

The most research-intensive such as Lancaster University Management School (Lums) and Leeds University Business School (Lubs) have a global reach and are able to connect local business with countries around the world in fast-growing countries such as China.

Lums' China Catalyst Programme is, for example, helping British companies to develop relationships with commercial partners in China. In addition, Lums has launched an MSc in international innovation giving UK firms access to postgraduates who will help them to develop research and development projects and unlock grant funding.

Lubs has set up a Business Confucius Institute (BCIUL) to improve relationships between businesses in Yorkshire and those in China. It has also established a Leeds China Forum with some other partners to capture Chinese market opportunities and grow links with that country. And it has been instrumental in Harrogate Grammar School becoming a centre for the study of the Chinese language.

"We are about helping people in the UK, and in this area, understand China," says Professor Peter Moizer, dean of Leeds University Business School. "All this is about trying to improve business in the region by helping companies to do business outside the UK."

For some time, Lubs has been part of a Goldman Sachs initiative called 10,000 Small Businesses, based on an American model, which offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to do better. Covering topics such as how to secure finance, how to put together a business plan, and how to analyse a market, it started as a pilot and is now in its eighth year.

"People on the programme achieved many more times the growth rates of comparable businesses," explains Moizer. "They employ more people and their turnover is higher.

In the North East, links between industry and universities have been developed over a long period. The Newcastle University Business School (Nubs), and specifically the Centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Enterprise (Kite), have been working with industry in the region for years, says Fiona Whitehurst, senior lecturer in management and director of accreditation.

"We feel we have a responsibility to play our part in the regional economy," she says.

Whitehurst herself has worked to identify that there was a significant subsea technology cluster in the region - and a new Masters in subsea engineering and management has been one of the results.

In Manchester and the North West, a lot is happening. The digital sector in that city is particularly buoyant with the creation of MediaCityUK and the forthcoming Tech North, which is growing innovation hubs outside London. Salford University is working closely with digital companies locally and its own graduates are contributing as well.

"Being based in Manchester is brilliant," says Salford digital business lecturer Alex Fenton. "We have incubator spaces where students can set up companies and they are then happy to stay in Manchester because it is so well connected with the rest of the world."

Salford alumnus Jamil Khalil recently raised more than £1m to build his digital company Wakelet and strongly believes that Manchester is the right area in which to be based. "From here they can tap into all of the growing skills, resources and contacts, but can be in London or any other city within a matter of hours."

At Sheffield Business School, part of Sheffield Hallam University, apprenticeships are an important element of the offerings and the school works with local companies to lay on both these and work placements. It is also about to launch a leadership programme for small and medium sized businesses.

All these initiatives are helping to produce the skills that the North needs to rebalance the economy and become a powerhouse.

'I wanted to refresh my career'

Marta Rodriguez, 28, studied for a marketing MSc at Salford Business School and, after completing her business innovation project on, is now working for the company.

"I used to work in Spain as a journalist and came to the UK because I wanted to refresh my career. Opportunities were few and far between in Spain. The marketing course at Salford caught my eye because of its module on social media.

The business school has many links with small companies, which I liked. For my final project I worked as a paid intern and analysed the traffic of an online company, ( As a result of that they employed me to manage their social media.

My technical director Jonathan Barber had done a course at Salford. After that he realised he needed someone to work full-time on social media, which is how I came to do my internship and then work for the company. I am creating content for blogs and also doing some public relations. I am very happy here and pleased to be contributing to the economy of the North."

'You have a bigger impact within an SME'

James Balshaw, 25, is a student on a two-year MSc in international innovation at Lancaster University Management School.

"I graduated from Lancaster in business studies and worked in London for two years. I discovered the new MSc in international innovation at Lancaster included a year's international industrial experience, which was something I wanted to do: I like integrating the academic with the practical.

We've had two-and-a-half terms of academic modules and now it's the practical stage. I'm working with a company that provides reliable renewable electricity to developing markets; and with a Lancashire-based business that offers bespoke software solutions for home automation.

Working with SMEs means you have a much bigger impact than you would in a corporation. You have the opportunity to affect business decisions at an earlier stage without bureaucratic constraints. I've grown up in the North West and feel that Masters degrees connecting smaller business with students is a good way to improve the economy."

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