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In a recent interview for SCAN, the University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Robert McKinlay, and Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Trevor McMillan, stressed business collaboration projects being undertaken across all faculties, in particular the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST).
The criterion of research impact is seen as particularly central, which it has been argued places subjects such as the Arts and Humanities at a disadvantage.
Professor McMillan told SCAN that “we’re clearly very keen for example on increasing the links between our students and businesses in terms of employability”, pointing out that this is not only done through the Management School as has been suggested in recent SCAN Comment articles.
McMillan placed great importance on the impact of the University’s research, and did not limit this to FST and Lancaster University Management School (LUMS).
He said “the current Research Excellence Framework that we’re working towards in two years’ time is bringing out stories across the whole University where our academics are having a real impact on the outside world.”
“Not necessarily on business” he added. You’ve got to work through the idea that it’s not only economic impact, it’s social impact and everything else.”
Faculty Director for Business Partnerships and Enterprise in Science and Technology Dr Mark Bacon also raised this point, saying that the University has a “mission as a public body established for public good,” and placing great importance on the wider social impact of Science and Technology.
On the question of whether such a model put students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FASS), for example, at a disadvantage, McMillan said: “They certainly shouldn’t feel undervalued in terms of those sorts of views of the world.”
Professor McKinley observed that the foci of the University are governed “to an alarming extent, not totally – by sixteen- and seventeen-year olds and their mums and dads and aunties and uncles [in terms of what’s they’re applying for].”
“Applications to the Management School from Home/EU have zoomed up, Science and Technology are more or less holding their own which is fantastic, and Arts and Social Science ones have gone down” he added.
This argument to some extent explains any sense of institutional bias.
Collaboration with business is a large factor in both InfoLab21, home of Computer Science at Lancaster, and Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), contributing to the fact that around 70% of funded research at the University is undertaken within Science and Technology departments at Lancaster.
Dr Bacon told SCAN that 60% of this is collaborative research with business and other science and engineering users.
The faculty website lists various business connections including the Centre of Hydrology & Ecology, the NHS, Microsoft, BT Labs, Shell, Unilever and Toshiba.
Also according to the website, the LEC “place over 30 postgraduate students each year into a wide range of businesses.”
Bacon told SCAN how the ‘business partnership and enterprise strategy’ is comprised of two main objectives, “high quality research with impact” and “high quality student experience”, but then also asks “how can student experience be improved by relations with business.”
He described the faculty as “taking the mission of working with business, once seen as third stream, to the mainstream, in terms of ensuring our partnerships with business help us to deliver our ambitions for research and training.”
He also pointed out to SCAN the “Business Partnership Managers” within the faculty, who work with business partners to develop both research partnerships and new opportunities for teaching.
Bacon also highlighted that Science and Technology departments help students to obtain “paid internships to work over the summer,” as well as raising the point that “placements at undergraduate and postgraduate level as part of the degree” are also available across many degree schemes.
Students are also encouraged to engage in projects, where Bacon highlights the “importance of students doing something as a real value for the company,” as well as the importance of “raising awareness” for students in terms of the business environment, so that both parties benefit.
Therefore, it seems that Science and Technology also have various business links and placement opportunities. Although it seems that knowledge of these connections varies across the student body, as Nuclear Engineering student, Yasar Sheikh, told SCAN “We do have different companies that come over to encourage us to join their companies” which he adds “are very helpful as they help you choose the aspect of engineering you want to have as a career.”
Similarly, Biology student, Fin, said that he had not heard of any business connections within the faculty, but his friend’s tutor “was helping her get a placement in the campus labs over the summer.”
The ‘Theme Based’ strategy for business partnerships in FST is led by Dr Bacon and also benefits students, working by splitting the faculty into themes rather than the six different departments.
He points out that although a certain theme may be more aligned to a certain department, the expertise from other departments are also heavily integrated, and the overall strategy is “more effective if you collaborate across different disciplines.”