Centrica and the University of Oxford: driving solutions and nurturing talent through student consultancy

Centrica and the University of Oxford: driving solutions and nurturing talent through student consultancy

A four year partnership between the University of Oxford’s Student Consultancy Programme and Centrica has given students the opportunity to tackle pressing energy issues while allowing the businesses to develop and recruit undergraduate problem-solving talent.

This case study originally appeared on page 22 of the State of the Relationship 2014. The report outlines the state of university-business collaboration in the UK, featuring expert views and over forty case studies. Read the full report.

The Oxford Student Consultancy is a programme open to students from any discipline at the University of Oxford. The programme positions undergraduates as consultants, helping businesses to solve critical problems and challenges. Following a week of training students are assigned a client, which may be a small business, charity, arts organisation or university department, which has a key business issue it would like the student to explore and find solutions to.

The consultancy programme provides students with a chance to gain solid entrepreneurial experience, contribute to local businesses, develop employability skills and gain awareness of business environments. The consultancy programme enables Centrica, one of the UK’s leading energy companies, and the University of Oxford to work together to address key business questions while developing the skills of both undergraduates and employees. The partnership is now entering its fourth year and has expanded from its initial home in the power generation side of Centrica’s business to a much wider brief across the whole organisation.

Oxford students undertake paid research and analysis-based projects, gaining valuable work experience whilst making a significant contribution to the business. The projects initially supported the work of senior Centrica executives who were part of the General Management talent development programme, but now consists of business-sponsored projects. From a recruitment perspective, the success of the partnership has helped to build Centrica’s profile as a graduate employer at Oxford. 

The initiative has three key goals:

  • To build Centrica’s presence and awareness in Oxford among the undergraduate population and the careers service. This presence will ideally translate into the recruitment of the very best Oxford graduates.
  • To develop mid-level managers through the management of teams of four undergraduate participants. This often includes overseeing undergraduate presentations to senior business leaders.
  • To solve important business issues – in 2013 these focused on energy resource questions relating to tidal, solar, nuclear and wind. Student solutions to these pressing concerns were described by the Executive Sponsor of the 2013 programme as “excellent”.

The partnership’s vision also includes teaching students how to work in consultancy teams, instilling energy and zest in the students about Centrica’s industry, and strengthening Oxford’s links with industry in general. Building these sorts of links is advantageous for the university as it can offer the potential for new sources of institutional funding.

From the 2011 cohort, 25 per cent (three out of 12) of the participants secured undergraduate summer placements with Centrica after completing the Oxford Student Consultancy and applications are regularly made by participants for the graduate programme.

Currently, the goal is to continue with the programme, expand it across Oxford and apply a similar principle to initiatives with other universities. Oxford Career Services has been an instrumental support in achieve excellence within this partnership. It is hoped that, moving forward, the benefits will continue for all involved.

To find out more, visit the Oxford website.


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