Updated : Tue, 10 Dec 2013 09:03:02 GMT
There are many ways for SME owners to get involved with university researchers, entrepreneurs and young talent
Last year small- and medium-sized enterprises spent ¬£193m working with higher education institutions in the UK, but that pales in comparison to the public sector, charities and social enterprises who invested ¬£1,288m to access the latest in research, innovation and graduate talent.
Most relationships between universities and businesses are based around collaborative research projects, but there are many ways for you to get involved with researchers, entrepreneurs and young talent. Here are five reasons why you should get in touch with your local university.
1. Universities can help you find the best graduates
By getting involved with a higher education institution you have the ability to shape the future ‚Äď for your business and for everyone. University placement schemes require reliable local business partners to offer internships and projects for students to work on. You'll have the benefit of exciting new talent at very low cost, and graduates will have your businesses in mind when they start looking for their first job.
Universities often offer professional development and staff training to help give your existing team skills. And once you've started working with a university they'll want your help to design courses and assessments that meet the needs of local employers. Goldsmiths, for example, has established a new research centre which will shape the future of the computer games industry, all with the help of digital employers.
2. Universities can lend you their equipment
Small businesses spent ¬£49m in 2011 to access university equipment, but not everyone knows what's out there. At the early stages of establishing a small business, investing in technology and facilities can prove risky and expensive. Whether it's laboratory time, high-tech IT equipment or simply space to hold meetings, many universities will lend you theirs for a small fee.
3. Academic staff
To make the most of a local university, you should consider signing up to a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. This government-funded scheme places a trained academic inside your business to help you with a specific project lasting between six and 36 months. If you're looking to grow your business but worry about expanding, this is a really useful way to manage a major work stream.
4. Access to cutting edge research
Working with university researchers means you'll have the latest studies and innovations at your fingertips, ahead of your competition. If your field matches the interests of a local research team or department, they'll work with you to turn an idea into a real business opportunity.
Researchers and engineers at the University of Southampton, for example, worked with local firm CJR Propulsion to produce a modelling tool, which allows the company to optimise their propeller designs based on a ship's speed and performance.
5. Universities bring small businesses together
Running a small or microbusiness is often a lonely pursuit, and working alone or in small numbers can be bad for business: some of the best innovations and opportunities come from throwing ideas around with colleagues and collaborators.
Universities can bring your business together with other like-minded entrepreneurs, providing support and assistance and helping to broker new working relationships. Many universities host local economic growth hubs or business incubators to help small organisations and startups get off the ground.
On the south coast, Brighton FUSE is a project that brings academics and entrepreneurs in the arts, humanities, design and digital sectors together in a cluster to map and measure how they can support one another. Similar schemes are starting to take shape across the rest of the UK.
Dr David Docherty is chief executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business.
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Publ.Date : Mon, 09 Dec 2013 10:00:00 GMT
'Closing Doors', a report launched today by the Institute of Physics, demonstrates that the majority of schools don't do enough to counter prevailing gender stereotypes
Children learn sexism at school. So says the headline of a piece¬†in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, in response to a shocking report on the experiences of more than a thousand Girl Guides. Primary school children who feel they have to diet in order to conform to airbrushed images in the media, secondary school children who are "touched up" in ways that make them feel uncomfortable ‚Äď¬†this seems to be the fate of the young girls in our population. One might, indeed should, question why schools are doing so little to counter these sorts of attitudes and actions.
Looking at how schools tackle the more formal aspects of education it is clear that here too sexism is prevalent. The report launched today by the Institute of Physics (IOP) entitled "Closing Doors" shows that the majority of schools fail to encourage subject choices in a gender neutral way. Boys are less likely to take stereotypically girls' subjects such as psychology or English, whereas girls are opting not to take physics or economics A-level, stereotypically identified as "for boys". This is not good news. Our children should be free to choose to study what really excites them, not subtly steered away from certain subjects because teachers believe in and propagate the stereotypes. Last year the IOP published a report "It's Different for Girls" which demonstrated that essentially half of state coeducational schools did not see a single girl progress to A-level physics. By contrast, the likelihood of girls progressing from single sex schools were two and a half times greater.
When discussing the launch of this report on the BBC Today programme I was challenged by a headteacher that "maybe girls just don't like physics". She seemed not to grasp the fact that this great difference between single-sex and mixed schools was likely to indicate that something fundamental in the school ethos, coupled with the way teachers handled classes and expectations, was contributing to the issue rather than this simply being a case of girls "not liking" the subject. She had missed the whole point of the report and was stuck with her own preconceptions.
Today's follow-up report from the IOP reinforces the fact that schools tend to educate in ways that conform to gender stereotypes, hindering both boys and girls from fulfilling their full potential. I once was told by an English teacher straight out that "boys can't do English", thereby apparently consigning 50% of the population to the dustbin of literary endeavour. With attitudes like this, it is not surprising that nearly three quarters of the A-level English cohort over the past three years were girls. Conversely, since according to that headteacher "maybe girls just don't like physics", we shouldn't be amazed that only 20% of the A-level physics cohort are girls. Teachers' expectations matter. Headteachers' expectations matter. If, even unconsciously, they hold these tenets to be true, we are unlikely ever to see A-level classes that are close to 50:50 in their composition.
Using data from the National Pupil database, which collects information from every school and on every child, the report shows that there are schools that buck the trend. Analysing data from six A-level subjects (with maths, economics and physics identified with boys and biology, psychology and English identified with the girls), A-level numbers for boys and girls were compared with the overall national averages. The schools that buck the trend are therefore those that have larger numbers of boys or girls progressing to A-levels in the subjects that are stereotypically associated with the opposite sex. Out of 2,465 coeducational state schools studied, only a mere 462 (that's less than 20%) fit this category of actually countering the stereotyping. On the other hand, around half the schools have worse statistics than average, indicating they are reinforcing stereotypical choices even above the national averages, the remainder simply being more or less average. (If you are puzzled by the numbers, remember schools vary in size: read the full report for further details.)
As with the previous IOP report mentioned above, there is another group of schools that can be compared with these state schools. If independent (ie non-state-maintained and fee-paying) schools are examined, it is found that this group of 343 schools split almost exactly equally into those that successfully combat the stereotyping, those that are neutral and those that reinforce it. Of course this comparison is not ideal. The independent schools will be taking wealthier children on average, and messages received at home will also be playing a part in every child's choices. Nevertheless it indicates that messages are relevant, not simply something innate in a child's chromosomes.
Surely we can do better? We should be able to construct school learning environments whereby teachers do not give out messages, subliminal or otherwise, that there are subjects that aren't for girls ‚Äď or equally that aren't for boys. As a society we should be demanding that inspections by the regulatory body Ofsted include consideration of inherent sexism in the classroom and gendered messages being given out by teachers. School governors and parents too should be clamouring to see eradication of such messages, insisting that schools provide data and monitor the A-level choices of boys and girls from their schools. Even primary schools should be checking how they portray different subjects, since often preferences are set very early in a child's life.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, with hard evidence to confirm what many have long suspected, we should make sure our national education system does not permit these imbalances to continue. We cannot afford to deter the best from pursuing their dreams, irrespective of gender, whatever these dreams may be.
‚ÄĘ Athene Donald is a professor of physics at the University of Cambridge. She tweets at @athenedonald
Publ.Date : Mon, 09 Dec 2013 08:55:00 GMT
The Family Language project, which enters primary children ‚Äď and their parents ‚Äď for GCSEs and has boosted their English, is at risk because of cuts
It's a familiar scene: a GCSE language class, and today the students are learning vocabulary related to family life. They are poring over a cheerfully illustrated worksheet. But what's unusual is the language being taught, which is Turkish, and the ages of the class members. Rather than teenagers, these students are 10 and 11 years old ‚Äď with some adults alongside. This after-school class, being taught at Randal Cremer primary school in Hackney, east London, is part of the GCSE Family Language project, which allows primary children whose first language is not English to study for a GCSE in their mother tongue, alongside a parent or other adult family member.
The 10 children and seven grown-ups (six mums, one dad) are an enthusiastic class. Azat Ekinci, 10, has a worksheet with a proud set of 10 ticks alongside the 10 questions he has answered with his father, Huseyin. "It's quite difficult but it's fun working with my dad," he says. "My elder brother helps us too."
The class is led by teachers Fatma Ferit and Ayten Acar, who bustle around, encouraging and helping. "As the weeks go by, the class becomes more like a family," says Ferit. "It's very satisfying to see parents being able to help their children, especially if they can't help so much with other homework."
The GCSE Family Language project was set up 10 years ago by Lynne Hannigan, director of Empowering Learning, a teacher training and recruitment consultancy that specialises in working with overseas-trained teachers living in the UK. The initial aims were to improve the self-esteem and confidence of some underachieving groups and make links with hard-to-reach families, drawing parents into involvement with schools and their children's education ‚Äď and the scheme, as it turned out, fulfilled them all.
"The impact was multiple," says Nick Harding, headteacher at Randal Cremer school at the time of the launch. "Turkish boys had been the lowest-achieving group. Not only were the youngsters successful in their Turkish GCSEs, but it also boosted their performance in English at key stage 3 and enhanced their study skills.
"These kids went into secondary school with a qualification most wouldn't get until they were 16. The other main benefit was getting parents into school. Several became volunteers and were even employed as teaching assistants. People used the term 'life changing' about it."
On that initial course, nine out of 10 candidates achieved an A or A* grade. The children gained confidence, self-esteem and a qualification. The parents also received a boost, particularly those whose own education had been lacking or disrupted. "The Kurdish mum who left school at 12, for example, loved learning with her daughters," says Hannigan, who was previously a teacher herself and ran an outstanding service for English as an additional language (EAL) in east London. "The parents got to know teachers, were more confident about coming in to ask questions and attended parents' evenings in greater numbers. Making links with secondary school, which hosts the exam, also meant they felt comfortable there."
The success of the GCSE Family Language project was widely acknowledged. Empowering Learning won a London Challenge award in 2006 and a 2008 award from the mayor of Hackney for the scheme. A 2006 report by the Institute of Education, Review of Successful Parental Involvement Practice for 'Hard to Reach' Parents, cited it as an example of good practice. The programme was rolled out to over 40 east London schools and expanded to include Arabic, Urdu, Polish, Farsi, Bengali, Portuguese and Chinese, plus French for children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Italian for Somali children. The range of participants also expanded. "We saw all kinds of parents, from economic migrants to refugees from war zones, and everyone in between," says Hannigan.
But now only a handful of schools offer this kind of course: where once there were 40, Hannigan now knows of just three primaries, including Randal Cremer, which hosted the original pilot back in 2003. Sadly, schools simply can't afford it. "Family learning funding stopped in 2009," says Hannigan. "We kept going for a while because the schools were finding money to cover the teachers and Empowering Learning put in a bit too." But without solid financial backing, the scheme has dwindled. The class embarking on this year's GCSE course at Randal Cremer is lucky, and they know it. "Lots of my friends would like this in their schools," says pupil Ilayda Ozturk, 10. "But they don't have it."
Y√ľksel Ferit was in charge of the project across Islington when he worked as an educational adviser for the borough ‚Äď he also taught classes and trained other teachers. "Where schools continue to run classes the results are still really good," he says. "There are cuts everywhere, of course, but these classes not only help children but also their parents, and it's really sad that they have largely been stopped when you think of the benefits." This is particularly true as the scheme is relatively inexpensive ‚Äď the main cost is paying the teachers, and exam fees. When funding dried up, Ferit taught unpaid for a time. "I believed in the scheme," he says.
Erdem G√ľler, 10, is studying with his mother, Nurcan, at Randal Cremer. Nurcan is glad to help reinforce Erdem's Turkish skills as, she says, he has never been formally taught the language. "I'm too used to English," interjects Erdem. "When I talk Turkish, an English word pops up." He would like to study German and French one day, he adds. "Erdem will already have a GCSE in his pocket before he starts secondary school," says his mother.
Fatma Ozturk, 34, took the exam last year, alongside her daughter Ilayda. "The last exam I did was when I was 18," she says. "It was really good fun, working with the children. And, spending an hour in school every week, I got to know some teachers well. I could see how my child is doing and if she needs help, I understand it better." Ozturk gained an A* grade and Ilayda a B.
Ilayda enjoyed working with her mother. "If there was a word in English I didn't know how to write in Turkish, mum could help," she says. The exam itself was less scary than she thought it might be. "I felt a bit shy about speaking, but the examiner was really kind." It was all worthwhile, she says. "I feel really happy and proud of myself."
Selven Has, 30, achieved an A* grade when she took the exam with her nephew, √úkr√ľ Agca, now 12, who also gained an A*, and she is now taking the course with her son, Barkin, 11. "Doing this course helps children improve in other classes, they become so confident," she says. "It pushed me too; before I couldn't write well in English, and now I'm on top of it. It helps kids improve, it helps parents to help their children. It has changed me a lot; I never used to join groups, but I've done six more courses."
Publ.Date : Tue, 10 Dec 2013 07:15:00 GMT
In 10 months' time schools are meant to offer free hot meals to all infants. But many headteachers say it's just not going to happen, finds Hannah Fearn
Eighteen months ago, Sean O'Sullivan, headteacher at Frank Wise special school in Banbury, Oxfordshire, made the decision to invest in a new kitchen. The school had spent years finding the right caterer, and now he wanted the best equipment to make sure everyone in the school could enjoy eating a meal with their peers. "For many children, that's a life skill," O'Sullivan explains.
But, despite his foresight, next September, when the coalition government's plan to offer a free lunch to all infants comes into force, O'Sullivan will still be behind the curve. His kitchen allows the school to serve food supplied by caterers, but not to cook it on site. He fears his catering providers ‚Äď so carefully chosen ‚Äď will be unable to meet the same nutritional standards at a cost the school can afford. "We have built a special kitchen that's got warming and refrigeration but not actually the facility to cook. It's a servery, basically," he says. "I'm fearful this could push things to the lowest common denominator. Our suppliers simply can't manage the quality that they do at the moment for high numbers."
Like many other headteachers, O'Sullivan has done little to prepare so far for the introduction of the coalition's new policy. He says he won't find time to plan until he's clear about exactly what he is expected to do. "These kind of things get announced at a political conference and, as a head, you're absolutely bombarded. With the amount of stuff that comes through to you, you have to prioritise."
He's not alone. "I have to say that our preparations have not really passed beyond the 'thinking about it' stage at present," says Michael Dix, headteacher at Glebelands primary school in Leicester. He's one of a growing number who are sceptical whether the idea will ever become a reality.
Pete Mountstephen, headteacher at St Stephen's school in Bath and chair of National Primary Headteachers, a lobbying group, also agrees: "We're not about to go spending any money on something which they may well get cold feet about. We don't want to buy Betamax."
The announcement about the policy last September by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, followed publication of the School Food Plan, written for the Department for Education by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, which cited research showing that free school meals had educational benefits as well as health advantages for children.
Last week, Whitehall sources said that the need to build extra kitchens had not been foreseen at the time of Clegg's ¬£600m announcement. And amidst a flurry of political wrangling and apparent bickering, the government announced the hasty addition of an extra ¬£150m to fund new kitchens and dining rooms. But many are still pointing out the logistical problems involved in getting the policy off the ground by September 2014.
Meanwhile, across the country, primary school headteachers have been refusing to prepare to put the free meals policy into action because they are sceptical that it will ever become reality. School leaders are convinced the government will have to perform another U-turn once the practicalities are laid out in front of them.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has met with the DfE and warned it of the growing unease among its members. Until last week's announcement ‚Äď revealed just 10 months before the policy has to be implemented ‚Äď schools had been provided with no information.
"It was either denial, or [schools] absolutely can't think how they are going to do this," says Valentine Mulholland, policy adviser to the NAHT. "We think some schools didn't realise this was happening because they hadn't heard anything."
Those who have tried to start planning have found it extremely difficult because they do not know how many families will take up the offer of a free lunch.
In addition, heads are pointing out that if everyone is entitled to a free meal, and disadvantaged families no longer need to apply, this puts the pupil premium ‚Äď arguably the flagship Liberal Democrat coalition policy ‚Äď at risk. The pupil premium provides schools with an extra ¬£900 per disadvantaged child in government grant, and it is calculated based on the number of pupils eligible for free school meals. And whatever pupil premium funding infant schools still manage to claim could end up being diverted to fund school dinners, due to the extreme financial pressure that schools are under. "National legislation appears to be all about unintended consequences," O'Sullivan says.
The NAHT is anticipating some important rollbacks in the policy before September 2014. When Clegg first made his announcement three months ago, he committed the government to offering schoolchildren a hot meal. A statement on the DfE website still reads: "The government will fund schools in England to provide every child in reception, year 1 and year 2 with a hot, nutritious meal at lunchtime."
This commitment, however, was not reiterated last week, when Clegg revealed the government was providing ¬£1bn in total "to ensure children get a healthy meal in the middle of the day".
Headteachers and governors still believe that it will simply be impractical for most schools ‚Äď and absolutely impossible for some ‚Äď to provide a hot meal by September 2014. An audit by the DfE of facilities and capabilities is under way, but the results are not available to the public. Lack of funding is not the only problem schools face. Some are in buildings where a new kitchen simply cannot be added on. Others face a sheer lack of space, either for kitchens and storage, or for dining, or both.
Many schools already run a double lunch shift from 11.30am to 1.30pm because all pupils cannot be accommodated, even before the pressure of extra mouths to feed. And with a shortage of primary places, many schools are enlarging to accommodate growing numbers. Extending any shift system would mean changing academic timetables or even using classrooms to feed pupils.
"[My] school was built in the 1990s at a time when space cost money, so we don't have any," says Dix. "The hall is not only used for dinner times, it is our only internal PE space. We will probably have to stagger our lunchtimes to allow for the additional serving-up time that will be inevitable if numbers rise. This would mean a reduction in the amount of PE we are able to provide."
Having lunch in shifts creates staffing and supervision problems. "It creates practical difficulties, with some classes being back in the classroom while others are out playing," explains Barry Read, headteacher of RJ Mitchell primary school in Hornchurch, Essex. Read, who is struggling to calculate how many families would take up the option, believes it would be easier to "go the whole hog" and require that all pupils took school dinners .
The policy will also cause procurement problems for councils and schools. A document sent by Dorset county council to all local primary schools and to the DfE, seen by Education Guardian, illustrates how long-term relationships with contractors help to secure best value for money. "Early negotiations with contracted providers may allow extra assistance options ... If the contracts are not confirmed early, this either may not be negotiable or may be at a grossly increased cost," the document states.
"It's going to be very difficult to get a good deal if they know that you have to have it done by September," explains one governor for a 500-pupil primary school on the south coast. And there are very practical considerations: "If all schools need to buy an oven, are there that many ovens available? Once they do the audit, they will realise that for many schools it's not possible."
Many headteachers believe there will have to be a U-turn over the "hot" element of the meal. The NAHT now favours compromising with a free packed lunch. "We have pointed out the key challenges for schools, particularly if they're going to insist on a hot school meal. There is lots more flexibility if it's a packed lunch to the nutritional standards," Mulholland says.
Commenting on the issues, a spokesperson for the DfE did not refer to hot meals. "We know that regularly eating a nutritious school meal can help to increase a child's educational attainment," said the spokesperson. "Free school meals for all infant school pupils will save parents an average of ¬£400 a year, and make sure every child can get the healthy lunch that will help them do well at school."
But a spokesman for Clegg said last week: "The expectation is for the majority of meals to be hot."
Schools are expecting to receive more information about implementation of the policy this week, now the autumn statement is out of the way. For some headteachers, like Mountstephen, however, the free meals scheme will be offered with a heavy heart. "I serve a fairly affluent part of a fairly affluent city in a fairly affluent part of the country. We don't need it. This is a prodigious sum of money, it's a biblical sum in a cash-strapped service. Frankly, it's a bizarre thing to be doing."
Publ.Date : Tue, 10 Dec 2013 07:39:00 GMT
With foreign language skills increasingly important in a global economy, monolingual Britons risk being left behind
Deficient language skills and the assumption that "everyone speaks English" are costing the UK economy around ¬£48bn a year, or 3.5% of GDP, according to research by Professor James Foreman-Peck for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Poor language skills act like a "tax on growth", hampering small to medium-size exporters, who are unable to employ the language specialists brought in by global companies, says Foreman-Peck, professor of economics at Cardiff Business School. It also deters non-exporters from trading internationally, he adds.
Foreign languages are crucial in all areas of business, says Bernardette Holmes, principal researcher of the British Academy's Born Global initiative ‚Äď whether you're tailoring a product to the needs of a particular country and marketing it in a culturally sensitive way, or entering new markets and building relationships. A lack of languages can get companies in legal trouble too, she says: "Businesses can fall foul of all sorts of regulatory issues and cultural misunderstandings."
A British Chambers of Commerce survey, published this year, backs up Foreman-Peck's claim of "a substantial negative effect on exports that must be attributed to language complacency". It reveals that 62% of non-exporting companies looking for international opportunities regarded languages as a barrier to doing so, while 70% of exporters had no foreign-language ability in the countries in which they operate.
"English is fine if you want to buy things, but it's not the right language to use for people who want to sell things," says Nick Brown, CEO of Nikwax, a UK-based manufacturer of cleaning and waterproofing products that exports to 50 countries and produces print materials in 48 languages.
Despite ensuring every export and sales employee is a linguist, Brown says not knowing some languages has damaged business opportunities. "We're doing a little bit of work with China and we're very aware that we're behind there. One of the reasons is the language problem ‚Äď we don't have a Mandarin speaker."
Only 30% of firms say they have no need for foreign language skills, according to a 2013 Confederation of British Industry (CBI) survey. But Foreman-Peck notes that the amount of problems a company encounters is largely dependent upon how bold it is with its export strategy: "Firms that say they haven't experienced any cultural difficulties in exporting, export much less than those that say they have experienced cultural difficulties."
Despite most companies highly rating language skills, many find it "almost impossible" to find bilingual UK employees, says Holmes. The same CBI survey showed that only 2% of companies were "very satisfied" with the foreign-language skills of graduates.
This inevitably means companies employ foreign workers to plug the languages gap. Richard Hardie, non-executive chair of UBS, says that for jobs that require fluency in another language, UBS very often takes "expats seconded to London at some expense ‚Äď and that's a cost we would rather do without".
Foreign languages are becoming ever more important in the global marketplace. If companies continue to be forced into looking abroad to fill key roles, it won't bode well for UK employment prospects.
Publ.Date : Tue, 10 Dec 2013 07:00:12 GMT