In the final part of this series, we look at some of the practical ways your university can use the kind of data we have presented to inform a truly civic agenda.
Measuring the impact your university is having on its local economy, and then seeking to better understand what is driving that economy, as we have described in the previous sections, provide both a benchmark for your current impact, and a means for improving impact in the future. But practically speaking, how can you use an impact study and localised LMI to inform a strategic approach that moves beyond civic engagement into the realm of the “truly civic”? Below are five key applications that your institution should be thinking about.
Engagement and collaboration with employers and other stakeholders in the region is something that the UPP Foundation Report stresses as being fundamental to a truly Civic University. Both the Economic Impact Study, and local Labour Market Insight more generally, can help facilitate this.
In our work with education providers in both the UK and US, we have seen numerous examples of
institutions using an EIS as a starting point for discussions with local stakeholders, including the hosting of events in which key organisations, including local business groups, local authorities, the LEP, and other education providers, have been invited along to discuss the findings. These events often provide the catalyst for much better and more fruitful relationships with local partners, which are beneficial to the university, those stakeholders, and ultimately the entire local community.
As for LMI more generally, by using it to identify the kind of industries that are driving local growth, as well as particular occupation and skills needs, universities can better prioritise which employers they should be engaging with for partnerships and collaborations, and can go into those discussions with far more knowledge of the skills needs of those businesses.
For any university that is looking to have more impact on the economy in its area, there is an imperative to ensure that its portfolio broadly reflects the needs of that area. This doesn’t mean attempting to develop a portfolio that is perfectly mapped to local employer needs, which is not feasible, but it does mean being aware of what graduate occupations and skills are most needed in the local economy, and ensuring that where there are areas of significant oversupply or undersupply of certain skills, steps are taken to ensure that the portfolio of programmes aligns to better reflect this demand.
We can help with this in three ways. Firstly, we can map courses to occupations, either by mapping JACS/HECoS codes to Standard Occupation Classifications, or to skills and then to the occupations that are most relevant to those skills. Having done this, we can then map provision to local economic demand (as well as further afield), using the kind of LMI we demonstrated in the previous piece. Finally, this allows us to do an in-depth analysis to establish those parts of the portfolio that are well aligned with the needs of the area economy; those where there is misalignment; and also any sectors of the local economy that the portfolio is currently not serving, but which provide potential opportunities to do so.
In addition to informing general portfolio planning, the kind of data we’ve presented in this series can also be used more specifically in course design, especially in ensuring that courses include elements and modules that reflect the current skills needs of local employers. This point can be illustrated by once again looking at the first chart in part 4, where we identified the hard skills that employers hiring for Production managers and directors in manufacturing in the Coventry and Warwickshire area are looking for. As we saw then, the skills shown by the data not only include the kind of generic skills you would expect for that occupation, such as engineering and manufacturing, but also much more specific ones, such as lean manufacturing and Six Sigma Methodology. By having access to this level of detail, course designers can very quickly gain a better understanding of what hard and soft skills employers in their area are looking for, and this can then be incorporated into the course in terms of lectures and additional modules. This is especially relevant for the types of graduate jobs in industries that are subject to rapid technological change, such as digital.
The data presented throughout this report has two basic uses in terms of research. Firstly, the results of an impact study can be used to provide the context for submissions to the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is due in 2021. In the previous REF in 2014, impact was defined as being “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia” and as we showed in part 3, the Emsi EIS can provide hard quantitative data measuring a number of these aspects. It should also be noted that the study can be broken down to look at different faculties, measuring the impact that they have on the local economy and beyond. For instance, we recently carried out a study on behalf of the Physiological Society, in which we measured the impact that physiology students have on the economy, and another on behalf of Guild HE, where we measured the impact of creative arts institutions.
The second use of the data for research purposes is all about understanding which industries a university should prioritise for partnerships. As we mentioned in part 2, the original Civic Universities were founded by local business leaders seeing the benefits that having a research facility on their doorstep could bring. These benefits still exist, of course, but what the data allows a university to do is to flip this idea on its head, by helping them identify the sorts of businesses in the area that could really benefit from collaborative research. For instance, when looking at Coventry and Warwickshire we saw that its most niche cluster is Vehicle and defence technology, and we also showed how we can dig down to reveal more detail about the underlying sectors. Such insight can be used by an institution to identify which are the most important clusters and industries in its area, and so better inform what type of businesses to engage in conversations about collaboration on research and development.
Finally, if a university is using the data in the ways suggested in the points above, the effect on the employability of its graduates is likely to be positive, especially as — according to Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) data — the majority of students (63%) stay in their university region after graduation. If an institution has been using the data to inform engagement with employers, better alignment of portfolio, the inclusion of specific skills elements in courses, and collaborative research with industry, then students graduating from there and who stay in the area are likely to be well placed to get employment in an organisation that needs the skills they have learned.
Furthermore, the same data can then be used by the university to inform students of the career opportunities that await them in the area, and we have a couple of software options that can help do this in an engaging way.
What we have shown in this series is how your university can use data, both in terms of measuring and articulating the impact it is currently having on its local economy, and also how it can better understand the needs of that economy in order to have even more impact in the future. By applying this knowledge in some of the ways we have suggested in this final section, your university can become far more strategic about impacting the local economy and key stakeholders, and therefore help ensure its place as a truly Civic University.
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