Posted 21 May 2019

What’s the current state of industry and university collaboration?

It’s not uncommon to hear graduates say they feel unprepared for the world of work; or that the bubble of university shields them from the realities of real life. Enter our third Insight Report! If you’re a LIP member, you can already start reading, and download the full report here. But as a preview, we’ve also summarised some of the results we found below.

In our latest Insight Report we’ve set out to explore how industry and education are working together. So how did we tackle this? First off, we examined the ways that industry are setting briefs, and how these kinds of collaborations are affecting courses and students. Then, we took a deep dive into recent news topics and themes to analyse the broader context.

We also spoke to over 300 students, recent graduates and tutors about their experiences of industry as part of degree programmes. Plus, we collected multiple opinions from the industry side – hearing from companies and practitioners such as Sky, the Design Museum and The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology. Read on for some of our key findings...

72% of grads say that industry involvement in their course helped their careers
Despite this, we found that the level of industry involvement doesn’t have that much of an effect on driving applications. 60% of students said it made no difference, and only 5% of tutors thought that the live briefs being offered were the main reason a course was chosen.

72% said that they would refuse to work with certain brands for ethical reasons
Especially if the brand was racist or homophobic, operated in certain industries (oil, tobacco, alcohol, arms), had a right-wing political agenda or was seen to be taking advantage of cheap student labour. The majority (64%) of tutors also said that they would reject proposals from brands and had done so.

Only 22% of tutors hadn’t experienced problems working with brands
Although 69% of students had not experienced problems with live briefs, tutors cited potential pitfalls as IP disputes, students signing NDAs so they couldn’t include work in their portfolios, increased stress for students and mismatched expectations.

Pairing with companies helps prepare students for a fast-moving tech landscape
Technology is advancing so rapidly, especially within screen and digital arts, that collaborations with industry are vital if graduates are to be “fit for purpose”. By universities pairing up with larger companies (or, inversely, small startups pairing up with universities to secure grants), both can gain access to technology and research that they might not normally be able to.

Additionally, several industry leaders added that merely teaching students how to use technology, rather than how to innovate with it, was a misstep. Indeed part of the reason why Dyson set up its own engineering institute was to encourage better creative thinking.

The ability to collaborate is an increasingly valuable skill
Our experts felt that the tools needed to collaborate effectively were often lacking at university, where students are thrown together and expected to just get on with it.

Leading by example in this area is The Dyson Institute, which places a lot of weight on teaching students how to collaborate include on a practical level, and an ambitious speculative project like UAL’s Futures Studio.

Brands need to recognise that students are the future of creativity
Student-led approaches tied together many of the case studies in our report – from one-on-one live briefs to a student-designed programme, such as at Futures Studio. Founded by Luke Whitehead, he suggests that clever brands need to be brave enough to develop spaces where young people can feed into the future of their businesses.

Iterative course design, based on constant student feedback, was also essential to the first year of the Dyson Institute. It demonstrated the power of students having a say in their learning outcomes, and where an education body can move nimbly enough to meet needs.

Universities need to get better at collaborating with the industries around them
In the future, universities will have a greater role as the facilitators of industrial strategy, as top-down directives from the government dole out huge cash injections to creative institutions that can improve local GVA [gross value added]. Universities need to get better at collaborating with the industries around them, and project-managing their needs to secure funding.

In our current age of identity culture and environmental ethics, brands too face pressure to define their purpose, and want to invest in making their production processes more sustainable. Universities are excellent bedfellows to provide this research, and from it gain increased funding, on-campus technology and the chance to implement their findings in the real world.


You can read the full report by downloading it here. This is available to Lecture in Progress members, so if you’re not already signed up, you can do so for free here. Members receive access to exclusive offers and promotions, and two newsletters a week.

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Mention Laura Snoad