At the heart of our progress at Lincoln is the development of innovative partnerships with industry and a revolution in our science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) portfolio. The recognition and support from HEFCE have been critical in levering our partnerships and funding in both areas.
In 2009, Strategic Development Funding from HEFCE helped us to create the first new School of Engineering in the UK for over 20 years, kicking off the start of a supportive relationship with HEFCE. This was followed by Catalyst Fund investment in 2013 to establish new Schools of Chemistry and Mathematics.
The new schools have firmly established the university as a regional anchor, which now knits together a much wider industrial ecosystem. Each project has been successful in their own right, but they are also part of a much bigger vision to create a university that looks to its future and that responds to the challenges faced by our communities.
How did it start?
In 2008, Siemens, the largest private sector employer in the city, was considering options for its future manufacturing of gas turbines. Lincoln had been a locus for engineering throughout the 20th century, but Siemens was struggling to recruit and retain engineers in the city. Joint venture discussions led to the establishment of the School of Engineering, with Siemens co-locating on campus to provide training for their worldwide customers. They provided student bursaries, internships, continuing professional development courses, a rich research and development (R&D) portfolio and secondments.
This arrangement ensured that Siemens would continue to be located in the city of Lincoln (and therefore in the UK), saving over 1,000 jobs and increasing local investment while creating the right environment for their future growth.
The benefit of placements, projects, internships and exposure to Siemens products and people for both sides is clear. Siemens estimate that it takes approximately six months for a graduate joining from the University of Lincoln to become fully productive in their business in comparison to a period of two years for graduates joining from other institutions.
Whilst its direct impact is critically important, the relationship with Siemens has also rapidly put the School of Engineering at the heart of the local and regional engineering cluster. It has engaged with over 400 engineering businesses and organisations to address their skills and R&D challenges.
Our projects are based on the specific issues of our industrial partners. Many make clear that they don’t want to ‘buy’ academic papers, but they want to see positive impact from academia on their business and customers. The School of Engineering is also driving inward investment to the city: it directly contributed to the decision by Bifrangi, an Italian engineering company, to locate to Lincoln and to invest over £40 million.
Building on this model
Further investment through the Catalyst Fund has built on the School of Engineering model. That was driven through an initial partnership with one industrial partner, but the Schools of Chemistry and Mathematics have involved over 30 industrial partners. The principles remain the same though: wide and deep partnership at the centre; co-design of curriculum; ongoing engagement that provides the basis for a 3-4 year interview process for both students and employers; and a focused research portfolio.
Success is evident in many ways already, not least with student recruitment exceeding our expectations. The School of Chemistry has 174 under- and postgraduates whilst the School of Mathematics has 125 students.
Alongside the benefits to students, staff and employers, the two schools have underpinned the creation of the Lincoln Science & Innovation Park in partnership with the Lincolnshire Co-operative, who in turn partnered with us to establish our School of Pharmacy.
We have spent a lot of time exploring the lessons that others in the higher education sector have learnt from these projects and offering the benefit of our experience. The results of this can be seen in the Mind the Gap report.
For me, the most fascinating thing to see is the pace of connectivity and the ever increasing role of the University of Lincoln at the heart of its region – not just economically. I see the university’s developments in a wider and emerging funding context: local enterprise partnerships, the Midlands Engine, Science & Innovation Audit; the Innovation Support Programme; the Regional Growth Fund; the Innovation Council; the Local Growth Fund; and more.
However, what’s critical to all our developments is having access to funding that’s flexible and prepared to take risks to pump-prime this sort of activity. There is still so much more we can do.
Photograph provided by the University of Lincoln