Brunel University London’s key role in both the local and global business communities and its entrepreneurial flair make the Uxbridge-based university an attractive partner for collaboration, writes its deputy vice-chancellor of academic affairs and civic engagement, Professor Bill Leahy
Community ties are hugely important to Brunel. We are proud to be a leading London university and prouder still to have Hillingdon and the Thames Valley on our doorstep. These communities are crucial to our success, and our vital role as a civic university is enshrined in our strategic vision.
Brunel is a significant and growing local and regional business. We contributed more than £200 million to the local economy and over £500m GVA to the London economy in the most recent yearly estimate by independent consultants BiGGAR Economics. Every £1 we make has an economic impact of £6.30 in the UK economy.
In terms of employment, some 4,300 jobs in the borough of Hillingdon were supported by Brunel in the same academic year – a figure that is increasing strongly with time. More broadly, our institution generated almost 7,600 jobs across London and over 10,200 nationally.
Brunel has relationships with well in excess of 8,000 companies through placements, graduate employment, mentoring, research funding and supply services. Our relationships with core organisations – including our fellow anchor institutions in Hillingdon: Heathrow, Hillingdon Borough Council and Hillingdon Hospital – involve
shared connections at various levels, from research to employment.
These strong relationships with business are hugely beneficial for all involved. For us, they areimportant in providing opportunities for our students to gain work experience, enhancing our teaching and learning and ultimately providing jobs for our students. And the relationships are also crucial in developing and maintaining criticalresearch partnerships and enhancing our ability to secure and exploit research funding opportunities – improving the impact of our research for businesses and communities and supporting our knowledge transfer activities.
A great example of this business engagement and the partnership working we do here at Brunel is the Hillingdon Business Expo, held on our Uxbridge campus. Firmly established in business owners’ calendars after three strong years, it attracts more than 1,500 visitors and includes more than 100 local and regional businesses, connecting them with potential customers and suppliers.
Through a pioneering new partnership with the Hillingdon Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, we are launching the new Brunel Partners Academic Centre for Health Sciences, which aims to transform the way health and social care is
delivered to the community. The Centre will drive innovation in community care through multidisciplinary research, will provide new approaches to education and teaching for allied health, nursing, social care and medicine, and will prepare the next generation of healthcare workers for the changing landscape.
Our Brunel Business School actively supports the Co-Innovate project, funded equally by the university and the European Regional Development Fund. Through the projects’ two initiatives, Co-Innovate Bridging the Gap and Co-Innovate Journeys, we provide support to local SMEs and start-ups for new product, service and process innovation.
We have worked closely with more than 250 local SMEs so far, connecting businesses to the academic expertise, innovation specialists and knowledge resources found within Brunel. This is knowledge exchange at its highest level: developing solutions for business through collaboration, and providing our students with an effective learning experience, boosting academic and employment projects.
We are proud of our students’ entrepreneurial flair, and provide structures within which their potential can be realised.
The Brunel Innovation Hub aims to stimulate entrepreneurship and encourage students and graduates to turn their ideas into business.
We bring together a collaborative and supportive network of successful entrepreneurs, experienced business mentors, investors and professional service providers to support the discovery of the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Brunel also has a product start-up incubator: the Central Research Laboratory in Hayes. Formed through a unique partnership between Brunel, regeneration specialists U+I and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, it supports teams at every stage of their entrepreneurial journey – from industrial design to user research, raising investment and manufacturing operations. The incubator’s prototyping workshop, mentoring programme, workspace and in-house expertise are tailored to the needs of hardware entrepreneurs.
Brunel Business School also runs Business Life, an innovative programme that helps graduates find employment by translating their education into the employability skills local businesses want. The School aims to collaborate with local business to further support the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.
Services such as our Professional Development Centre help students to secure placements and internships, either UK-based or international, connecting them with mentors and providing access to meaningful part-time jobs on campus and in the local economy. And students also gain transferrable skills such as teamwork, interpersonal skills and leadership – all of which are central to the university’s development programmes.
All Brunel students are given the opportunity to take up research placements, and we work with industry to establish long-term relationships.
Our students are a vital part of the local community through their volunteering. In 2014/15, a fifth of full-time students at Brunel volunteered for local charities such as Victim Support or the Alzheimer’s Society, amounting to over 21,000 hours of altruistic work. Our Brunel volunteers team works with more than 80 local charities and schools through activities such as mentoring, befriending and stewarding. In addition, our university staff can take 36 hours of paid leave a year to volunteer in local projects, contributing to their respective local communities.
Engagement with communities enhances the quality and global significance of the teaching and research of research-intensive universities such as Brunel. Research is driven by the need to address challenges in society – and this impacts on the local as much as it does the global.
One example is the Give & Take Care project, supported by Brunel and funded through winning the Long Term Care Revolution competition held by Innovate UK. The project enables carers to save up a care ‘pension’, which they could then claim back for their own care in their later years. This community-centred solution is already available in Twyford and Slough, with future roll-outs planned for other localities in the Thames Valley and nationwide.
We are committed to sharing our knowledge, resources and skills with the public so that they can understand and appreciate some of the ground-breaking research we conduct. With this in mind, Brunel set up the Public Engagement Fund: an initiative designed to support researchers in undertaking public engagement activity.
We fund projects that touch on topics the public can relate to and get involved in. Recent examples include research into people’s perception of air
quality, workshops putting school pupils and their teachers in the shoes of dementia sufferers, and a Young Person’s Advisory Group to assist researchers.
More broadly, Brunel acts as a hub for the local community, which is invited onto our lively, active campus all year round. Events such as public lectures and showcase evenings develop and strengthen our relationships with the public, while our annual fireworks night regularly brings in more than 3,500 visitors from across the region.
But the events we put on aren’t the only time we meet members of our local community. Our campus is an open campus, with facilities available and attractive to the public – from our sports facilities to our coffee shops and restaurants. And Brunel Arts runs activities from weekly classes to concerts.
Local schoolchildren currently visit our campus as part of outreach activities. Thousands of schoolchildren will be taught each year at our soon-to-be-launched STEM Centre. The Centre aims to increase the number of undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and maths by 20% in the next five years – and global partners such as Fujitsu will be part of the centre, further linking industry to higher education.
Local business and Brunel University London share a mutually underpinned future. We actively encourage businesses across the Thames Valley to visit or contact us to see how we can work together to grow their operations and the local economy.
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