£4,200,000,000. That’s the value to UK universities of knowledge exchange activities with businesses in 2014/15. That’s a lot of zeroes.
To put that number in context, philanthropy to UK higher education institutions contributed £0.8 billion in the same year. And these philanthropy figures also incorporate corporate donations.
Considering this 5:1 ratio, it’s not surprising that business engagement is currently high on the agenda for many university leadership teams. But it is surprising how little business engagement and advancement interact in their work as external relations departments.
Business relationships should be harnessed to strengthen advancement activities, and existing advancement relationships should strengthen business engagement. And, given that philanthropy is the junior “funder” at present, advancement directors should probably be the more eager to progress this conversation!
Why businesses are critical to institutions
Business engagement is flourishing, because of its deep reciprocal nature in the modern economy:
- Research Funding: ranging from sponsoring academic projects and bringing new ideas to market (by commercialising knowledge and technology), to forming new companies. Where research output is significant, this can even result in capital funding for new buildings and laboratories. If the business receives a benefit then the grant is likely to be non-philanthropic (i.e. contractual).
- Student Support: providing significant sources of student-focused funding, especially at postgraduate and postdoctoral level. This might include scholarships, travel or work placement grants, and other awards. These may be funded through companies’ R&D or marketing budgets, rather than corporate social responsibility (CSR).
- Employability: playing critical roles in careers programmes, above and beyond being the actual destinations for many leavers. From providing work placements or internships to hosting Years in Industry. Or attending careers fairs and networking events, participating in mentoring programmes, and offering other training or skills-based learning opportunities.
Why universities are critical to businesses
- Innovation: producing cutting-edge research, which is impactful around the globe and across all disciplines. Partnering can help businesses directly, quickly, and potentially exclusively, benefit from these innovations. Especially in the case of rapidly-evolving fields like medicine, engineering and other sciences.
- Recruitment: providing the best and brightest recruits available. Partnering directly with an education institution helps build more linear pathways for employment. It provides businesses with privileged access to current students, and higher confidence that recruits will have the knowledge and skillsets required.
- Reputation: reinforcing a business’s brand by attaching their name to academic excellence. These partnerships can also give something back to communities or regions in a way that gives confidence to staff, customers and shareholders alike, whilst adding real societal value.
Join up the dots with advancement.
Advancement teams should look to maximise these networks to achieve even more social good. We all know the importance of opening doors and establishing connections. So, if opportunities exist for companies’ R&D, Marketing or members of the Board to make introductions to CSR teams, jump at it!
Advancement can also be the key to creating deeper corporate engagement. Our existing audience of alumni, donors and parents includes employees – or even directors – of exactly the businesses that could have greatest impact on universities’ knowledge exchange activities. Especially when we consider alumni are typically the largest engaged constituency of all. These connections are already helping to drive mentoring and employability initiatives.
A good place to start is by offering access of your Advancement CRM to Business Engagement teams. Your employer data will be vital to unlock doors for wider engagement conversations. And your technology and processes could be an ideal fit for their functional needs. After all, both departments share similarities around the importance of relationships and networks, depend on complex and diverse funding mechanisms, and require multi-channel touch-points to deliver success.
Some institutions have already begun to join up these dots to great effect. But as a sector we’re only scratching the surface of cross-pollinating our external relationships. Where better to start for advancement than with business engagement?
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