KE Continuous Improvement Initiative, Newcastle University

Newcastle University drives internal continuous improvement using our regular Engage and Learn forums, evaluation of training, awards and support initiatives and through industrial advisory boards who provide external feedback.  We have specific KE KPIs to help us benchmark our performance against KEF cluster V and a specific area of improvement has been their focus on student enterprise.

1. Please provide a brief description of the KE project/ case study and why you believe it is considered good practice or innovative (and for whom).

The KEC process gave us an opportunity to reflect on and undertake an in depth, longer term internal review to assess where we needed to improve, outside of just the KEF and HEBCI. Through this process, we identified areas where we could improve and consulted widely across the university. This included, for example, how we could align and connect our student enterprise activities with spinout activity. So, it wasn’t just about focusing on KEF metrics but about how we could sufficiently involve our students in staff startup activity. We took a proposal for continuous improvement over a longer term to the Executive Board and there have been a series of further action plans built off the back of these.  

 2. What impact/ outcome has this project/ activity had on your university? Students? Local economy? Staff? Other external parties, e.g. businesses.

There are two specific things: two internal reviews have looked at how we deliver enterprise training and activity to students and how we make academics aware of and support enterprise activity. It has resulted in a lot of joined up work and discussions about how we make things more coherent across the institution, how we read across lessons learned, how we look at PGRs across enterprise and the range of initiatives.

Last year, we piloted a deep tech hub for STEM PhD students to improve how we support our PhDs working in this area. We worked collaboratively with Northumbria, Teesside and Durham Universities on an event and have been able to use that to connect aspiring PhD founders in the North East with the local deep tech network, help them gain business skills, access funding and launch deep tech startups.

3. How did you measure impact?

We have tried to adopt a combination of hard metrics and more reflective activity. The KEF forced us to think reflectively about our metrics and therefore, we are aiming for increases in the numbers placements, spinouts etc.

4. What types of resources were required to implement this project?

Our improvement plan drew on existing resources as we had well-developed professional services for both engagement and KE. Our improvement plan brought these two together without the need for additional funding.

5. Where did the idea for the project/ programme come from? Was this related to a strategic objective? How did you secure senior buy in?

We deliberately decided not to adopt a separate KE strategy as we have a research and innovation strategy which covers a large part of KE. We also have an Engagement and Place strategy which talks about our place in the community, country and world which obviously has KE throughout. Those strategies are very much owned at the executive level.

6. What are the governance structures in place to oversee it?

The Executive Board is the overall owner of our KE improvement plan and we report to them regularly. On the day to day, we established a Knowledge Exchange and Policy Oversight Committee, made up of members from our Executive Board, to take a holistic view of all of our institutional KE activity and drive our HEIF strategy. This is made up of the PVCs of both Research and Innovation and Engagement and Place, as well as a range of faculty level deans and business and innovation leaders.

8. Describe any challenges that you have had to overcome either before, during or after implementing this project?

The initial challenge was the need to disentangle the reflective nature of the KEC from the reactive nature of the KEF. It took some time to get internal buy in on this as we needed to explain carefully to senior colleagues the differences between the two exercises.

The other challenge was to bring together our KE team with our broader engagement team which works with with the city and student volunteers in the region. Once we started making those improvements, it was much easier.

9. Next steps?

We’d like to continue to make improvements to our student enterprise PhD scheme and to ensure we build on activity that has already taken place.. In the medium term, we are hoping to host a public engagement festival in the summer and an award scheme for staff and students.

KE improvement Newcastle

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