3 key ways Higher Education institutions can provide value to wider communities

The higher education sector is all about getting ahead. You’re giving your students a pathway into their chosen careers, but you’re also striving to differentiate yourselves from other organisations as a fine example of an institution of higher learning. There’s a neat cycle involved – institutions that produce the best results and the most successful alumni attract the best and brightest in terms of staff and students –  and those with the best and brightest produce the best results and most successful alumni. 

With all that being said, it’s not all about looking inward. A HE institution has a responsibility and a vested interest in developing and investing in community and economy on a local, national or even international level. As centres of learning, research and innovation, it serves both them and the wider community to share knowledge, resources and forge partnerships. 

In this post, we’ll explore 3 ways in which HE institutions provide value to their wide communities through innovating and transforming their approaches. 

Stronger links with employers

Preparing a student for the world of work by helping them hone skills for a very specific sector or indeed, very specific employer, not only benefits them, and you, but the local economy too. Through fostering strong links with employers, you improve the prospects and employability of your students, the opportunities for you as an organisation, and the economic outlook of businesses in your area and in the UK. In this model from the QAA, you can see how employer engagement benefits the stakeholders of both higher education and businesses. 

Source: https://www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/about-us/employer-engagement-report.pdf?sfvrsn=8ce2f581_8

From an institution’s perspective, having links to employers also helps to ensure that course curriculums stay relevant within their industry or sector. In this way, an institution can be more responsive and adaptive to a changing market, instead of looking inward. From the wider community or economy’s perspective, this means that they get access to highly skilled workers who are trained and prepared specifically for their business, leading to reduction in spend on recruitment and training, and leading to more efficiency savings and better financial outlook. 

Knowledge exchange

Higher education institutions are centres of knowledge. It goes without saying that typically, each university has a history, heritage and therefore strength around a particular subject area or discipline. The research capabilities of an institution in its specialist area is a vital resource for the wider community and economy. Knowledge exchange (KE) is an essential part of how institutions interact and engage with their communities. In partnership, institutions and organisations can pose research questions that benefits both themselves and society as a whole. In their concordat for the advancement of knowledge exchange, Universities UK and Research England emphasise the importance of KE being a part of overall university strategy, and that there must be continuous improvement driven by collaboration, partner feedback and sharing of best practice. 

Plugging skills gaps

As we move towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the advent of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and digital technology, and it’s prevalence in society and in the workplace – there is a necessity for the next generation of workers to be skilled in understanding and harnessing these tools and technologies. HE institutions are well poised to recognise skills gaps both on a local and national level, and to meet the rising demand for people with qualifications above Level 4. 

A report by the Open University revealed that nine out of ten UK businesses currently lack digital skills – a startling statistic when you consider how prevalent digital technology is now, and how much more it is likely to be in the coming years. 

Initiatives such as the Institute of Coding – a partnership between the government, 33 universities, major tech industry players and SMEs – are great examples of how we can respond to this skills gap by driving awareness and breaking down barriers to digital learning. Within this initiative, individual institutions have received vital funding and resources for driving and developing their digital curriculum. In return, these institutions can develop the next generation of digital worker who will be able to provide value to their employers and society by approaching and overcoming wider challenges with the cutting-edge in thinking, skills and technologies. These could include everything from making a business more efficient to climate change. 

PNE enable vital collaboration between HE senior leaders, their peers and solutions providers with the Higher Education Partnership Network events. Over 2 days, 100+ senior leaders in higher education come together with innovative suppliers to connect, collaborate and form partnerships. If you’re interested in attending HEPN in April this year, register your interest here

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