Industry-led teaching: Seeing how the theory matters in practice

Industry-led teaching: Seeing how the theory matters in practice

"For industry, the benefits are obvious. Those companies working in technical industries often struggle to recruit people with relevant knowledge and skills."

How do universities ensure that the talented young people studying and conducting research in our facilities, and on our courses, are getting the most up to date and industrially-relevant knowledge and skills?

This is a key issue that people working in higher education have been tackling for years. However, as tuition fees have risen, and students and graduates are looking for more tangible return on investments, course relevance and employability is shifting more and more into focus as universities compete to enrol high-quality students.

"The critical aspect of this industry-led teaching is that students see how the theory actually matters in practice." - Prof. Frank Martin

At Lancaster University we have looked towards industry itself to ensure that our students are learning about the most relevant issues and problems that businesses are facing in the real world.

In a unique collaboration between industry and academia, scientists from Unilever have delivered a module to a cohort of our masters students over ten lectures and five workshops during a five-week programme on ‘Safety and Environmental Impact Assessment: An Industrial Perspective’.

The course was delivered exclusively by Unilever scientists who have internationally pioneered state-of-the-art biological approaches that look at the risk from chemical exposures in the environment and in consumer products.

Our relationship with Unilever all started with the increasing profile of toxicology and environmental science at Lancaster University through presentations at conferences and papers published in the field. Following on from this, Unilever funded PhD studentships, which were highly successful, and a Unilever colleague has also acted as an external examiner on our qualifications.

The critical aspect of this industry-led teaching is that students see how the theory actually matters in practice - that regulatory toxicology is not just a theoretical concept but matters to industry in the development of their products for the marketplace.

In a rapidly-evolving subject area, students are introduced to new industry-led developments. It also allows industry colleagues to liaise with academic experts to understand how developments in thinking occur at the ground level, helping us to shape our future courses.

I believe that collaborations with businesses and industries to help shape academic learning is becoming increasingly important on both sides. Students are often disillusioned while they are over-burdened with theory and learning. Seeing how this applies in practice, and the fact that theory has real-world applications, only enhances their learning experience and bolsters enthusiasm.

Students also gain a greater perception of the employment opportunities that might exist. Having a better picture of the potential roles they could fill helps them to focus more clearly on the research they undertake as part of their studies.

For industry, the benefits are obvious. Those companies working in technical industries often struggle to recruit people with relevant knowledge and skills. By helping to shape academic courses they are able to influence learning in the areas that are important to their business – as well as providing additional opportunities to talent-spot outstanding young scientists.

Professor Frank Martin is Professor of Biological Chemistry, Director of Centre for Biophotonics at Lancaster University.

More information on Lancaster University and further information on the Lancaster Environment Centre.

How important do you think more business involvement in universities is for the development of our students learning experience? Comment below or tweet us @NCUBtweets.

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