Comment: business University links beneficial

University of Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
University of Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
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Businesses of all shapes and sizes are discovering the benefits of working with students from Scottish universities through tie-ups that bring fresh thinking to tackle workplace challenges.

And it appears it’s a win-win as almost 60 per cent of the students go onto employment or secure additional work with those companies.

Lack of resource or money often means an idea stays an idea, even if it hinders business growth, but thanks to a number of initiatives linking businesses with universities, working with Scotland’s top-class graduates and students from a diverse range of disciplines is bringing new skills into the workplace.

For companies established for a year or longer, University of Edinburgh’s Enterprise Consultancy Project could provide a good solution. An individual or team of undergraduate students studying entrepreneurship undertake an eight-week project, for free, which addresses a particular hurdle. Market research, identifying new customers or suppliers, analysing the impact of new legislation or regulations, or business planning can all be carried out for the business.

One business to benefit from this is Acting Up, an Edinburgh company set up in 1997 by actress and writer Emma Currie to tackle behavioural change in the workplace, particularly among hard-hat wearing employees, through film and theatre.

She took on Emmanuelle Sangster, a business student at Edinburgh University doing an MSc in human resources for a short-term project, but her skill-set proved so useful she helped with other aspects of the business and has been offered part-time work once she graduates this autumn.

Willie Biggart, chairman of Spoonfed, an online management software application for drop-off caterers and restaurants, tells a similar story. MBA student Chih-wei Chou wanted to explore opportunities in the Taiwan market, went on to complete a 12-week project handling international enquiries and is now its international business development manager.

Recognising small businesses are key to economic recovery – and UK employment – Santander launched its Universities SME Internships programme, linking 4,000 final-year undergraduates and recent graduates to businesses for fixed-term projects lasting three to six months. Edinburgh University has placed over 100 students in the past two years with SMEs through the Santander scheme – and last year half of the internships led to full- or part-time roles or extensions to their original internship.

There are great opportunities for businesses to gain additional support, at low cost or co-funded. The feedback we get at Interface from businesses and universities is very positive, with the firms often delighted at the progress and discovering additional benefits of working with students.

I would encourage any business to have an initial conversation about the other opportunities of working with universities and discuss what could benefit their business. Working with students often opens the door to more businesses-academic tie-ups.

We know from research that a lack of time or resource can prevent businesses from developing products and services and moving their business forward, so this could be a solution they may not have considered.

Deadlines for some of the initiatives above are this month, with projects starting in September, whilst others are open all year round, so visit www.interface-online.org.uk to find out more.

• Louise Arnold is a business engagement executive at Interface, a free service that matches businesses to academic expertise