A university’s approach to supporting business recovery

Donella Beaton, Associate Vice Principal of Business and Economic Development at RGU, writes about the university’s vital role and approach to supporting business recovery using different government-funded initiatives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought wide-spread implications for our economy, disrupting supply chains, challenging our business models and threatening the very existence of businesses in some areas. While the scale of the impact on Scotland’s economy is still unclear, what is clear is that we need to be doing all that we can to support our business community and the working population as they address these critical challenges.

The pivotal role of the education sector in the recovery of the economy post-COVID 19 is unarguable.  Universities need to continue to provide the excellence in teaching and research that they are known for and, in addition, each currently reflect how they can most effectively use their expertise to support businesses to address their more immediate needs.  

These approaches must reflect regional priorities while considering sectoral demands, timescales and the requirements of individual companies.  This all points towards the need for a joined approach to providing diverse solutions, very much assisted by the diversity of the country’s universities.  

As a professionally focused university, stimulating economic development is one of Robert Gordon University’s (RGU) strategic aims. By working in partnership with key development organisations regionally and nationally and with other universities, RGU can demonstrate its longstanding commitment to working towards a robust and resilient Scotland that celebrates diversity and reduces inequalities.

To maximise its impact and ensure relevance, a key RGU approach is to align with UK Government, Scottish Government and regional priorities, and then deliver by supporting businesses to prosper using different government-funded initiatives.

This approach has for example led to the university’s success in its delivery of the Scottish Government’s Graduate Apprenticeships (GA) programme – now working with over 200 companies throughout Scotland. By working in partnership with Skills Development Scotland, employers and professional bodies to provide these work-based learning degrees, the university has contributed to creating stronger links between industry and education, and in doing so is helping to upskill the workforce for the future. 

RGU has taken this same work-based learning and partnership approach as it delivers on the Scottish Funding Council’s (SFC) support to universities for developing upskilling courses and as it now starts to further develop its own portfolio of short, flexible courses to address business needs.

RGU has also drawn on Government-funded programmes to support companies to innovate to address business and service challenges, and believes that there is particular value in using these proven support mechanisms at this time.  
Examples include Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) programme which provides access to university expertise to help businesses develop and adapt, through the joint funding of a university-supported associate within the company. This programme has drawn the support of several funding agencies, working together not only to address national priorities but also to respect regional differences and sectoral needs. 

RGU has worked on almost 100 KTP projects to date, cementing its commitment to working directly with companies to help them to be more successful, as well as contributing to the wider economy. RGU’s current KTP projects come from a wide range of industries, including food and drink, energy, construction, transport and the creative industries.
RGU also supports organisations through the Interface-managed SFC Innovation Voucher Scheme which offsets the cost for businesses to engage with universities or colleges to kick-start the development of their products, processes or services.  This has particular relevance at this time as the vouchers enable companies to work with universities such as RGU to address their key challenges on the back of COVID-19.  

In the last 12 months, RGU has received the highest number of Innovation Voucher awards of any university with over 30 projects across eight sectors, and from companies throughout Scotland, demonstrating the flexible nature of the programme and RGU’s commitment to using government mechanisms to best support companies and the economy. 
RGU has also most recently launched its own initiative, RGU Knowledge Bites for Business, to provide companies with free online access to relevant and current insights from the RGU community as well as information about these government-funded programmes.

So where from here? As we face the economic challenges of the future, universities will continue to have a vital role in supporting businesses to prosper. This will be best served when government, national strategic bodies and universities coalesce with appropriate investment and support and clear and consistent messaging, delivered where appropriate by extending the reach of existing, proven support mechanisms. RGU is both proud of and deeply committed to furthering its connections and partnerships, to play its part in ensuring a collective recovery for the good of all.