Universities are increasingly looking to increase their connections with business, as a way of accounting for funding shortfalls, and their success in this regard may be measured by the fact that in 2016 this area of activity grew by 4.6% year on year. Government has formulated a clear policy priority in the form of knowledge transfer, implemented through the impact agenda among other measures. A partnership model has emerged in university-industry collaborations, in place of the old models of sponsorship, with the most notable area of growth in STEM areas (including life & health sciences, engineering, IT & communications, and business and communications). The arts, however, lag behind in this respect, despite the fact that the creative industries alone represent a significant UK-wide sector, generating 92 billion pounds sterling according to the latest government statistics, and outperforming the rest of the economy in terms of growth. So how can this divide be overcome, and what steps can universities take to ensure that both industry and the arts and humanities do not miss out on the potential benefits of such collaborations?
Points of contact
The arts is, of course, a wide category that covers not only the creative arts – graphics, design, fashion, theatre design, etc– but also such disciplines as modern languages, history, english, classics, and in some cases, cross-over disciplines such as archaeology, linguistics, and even product design, to name but a few. Some of these disciplines lend themselves to direct knowledge transfer (product designers, for instance, may find obvious points of contact with commerce in developing patents, offering testing, and undertaking market research), while others may appear to be less easily transferable to the world of business and commerce. Nevertheless, there are many possible points of contact between the two worlds which universities are in a good position to facilitate, with their highly developed infrastructures and support systems, and networks of expertise. Points of contact may include formal arrangements such as placements, internships, knowledge transfer partnerships, information and knowledge exchange networks, and skills exchanges, as well as more informal meeting points such as sandboxes, symposiums, and pechakuchas.
While the precise arrangement for industry-academia interactions may vary widely from subject to subject, and according to the needs of the industry partner, the arts can build a persuasive narrative based on their storytelling expertise in order to attract potential partners. Expertise in a wide range of storytelling lies at the heart of the arts in all its forms, whether a classics department or a department of marketing and branding. Specialists in the arts can offer emotional literacy, linguistic acumen, and understandings of narrative patterns over time, to industries wishing to acquire insights into human behaviours and to gain traction with marketing or outreach agendas. The arts and humanities are also in a good position to promote their expertise as research-led and honed by pedagogical practice to a wide demographic, and to emphasise that this distinguishes them from other providers offering similar services.
Impact and outreach
One of the key areas of interaction for industry and the arts lies in the impact and outreach agenda of universities, which has many points in common with the requirements for business and industry to reach a wide public. Universities have growing expertise in this form of engagement, and arts subjects in particular are well versed in promoting soft skill forms of engagement to a broad demographic. Through the impact agenda universities can demonstrate how regional and local heritage and other forms of community history can enable industry to build on and develop local roots as well as address distant markets.
Benefits to all
Industry-academia engagements bring benefits on several levels. Individuals may benefit given that a key priority for many university staff today is their research. Industry collaborations may benefit staff research by broadening horizons, providing researchers with a route out of the traditional arts and humanities silo, and encouraging inter-disciplinary and inter-sector collaborations that would not be possible within the university parameters. New outcomes may result from such interactions, and collaboration may also provide fertile testing grounds for research with new audiences, supplying both positive and negative feedback that can, in its turn, serve as an invaluable basis for developing further research activity.
In addition, subjects or disciples may also benefit, particularly those that struggle to recruit or to make convincing cases for support within the university sector. Their position may be strengthened through seeking out collaborations that enable them to build impact case studies or to generate a sustainable placement system that lifts their employability profile.
Lastly, both universities and industries benefit from acquiring enhanced reputational standing through public-facing collaborations, and from gaining access to grant income streams that may not be available to either sector on its own.