Goldsmiths University of London: new models of innovation and collaboration

Goldsmiths University of London: new models of innovation and collaboration

The MA Innovation in Practice and graduate apprenticeship scheme offer businesses the opportunity to benefit from strategic thinking and expertise at an affordable price.

This case study orignally appeared on page 26 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.

Mike Waller of the Goldsmiths Design Department studies innovation as a process and helps companies understand how they can cultivate and sustain a culture of innovation. His research is practice-based, taking an in-depth look at an ongoing project and using this as a starting point to enable companies to think strategically about their products, services and markets.

Waller uses his knowledge and experience to pioneer new ways in which businesses can collaborate with the university. For example, in 2007 Waller received funding from the Manufacturing Advisory Service to conduct workshops and in-person diagnostics, and to place a student at the company to help implement his recommendations. For one homewares firm, a new rapid prototyping procedure greatly increased their production speed. Another company that manufactures high-tech plastic for the automotive industry hired a new sales manager after Waller established they were missing out on major markets.

Through his work, Waller found that some companies could benefit from a longer, more comprehensive intervention, but that the cost of hiring an academic as a consultant was often prohibitively expensive, especially for SMEs which often require the most support. He identified the need to develop a highervalue offering for companies that allows them to embed innovation into their day-to-day work.

As a result Waller founded the MA Innovation in Practice. This course enables a company chief executive or other member of senior management to sign up for the MA to work on a discrete project, which would form the basis of an in-depth study of the practice of innovation. Alternatively, a student could ‘champion’ the project on behalf of the company on the MA programme, thus embedding knowledge within the organisation in a way that would be impossible through conventional consultancy.

Following an ERDF-funded pilot, the MA launched in 2010 and has grown from a single student to ten by 2013-14. The model has been adapted by Trinity College Dublin and Kyung-Hee University in South Korea, which have launched similar programmes in collaboration with Goldsmiths.

The MA has also formed the basis of a new Innovation Apprenticeship scheme, which is linked to the London Fusion awards and opens up training in innovation and unique, strategic thinking to companies who specialise in anything from manufacturing to the digital and creative industries.

The award programme offers £10,000 vouchers for companies to purchase consultancy from a university. Under the apprenticeship scheme, half of the £10,000 can be used to fund an MA student who is placed at the company while the remainder pays for a team of expert mentors from across college. The package offers extraordinary value for the company which benefits from a team of long-term consultants for the price of one short-term project. Two SMES are currently benefiting from this scheme: Innovare Design, a retail design consultancy, and RollyGolf, a company developing motorised trolleys for the luxury golf sector.

There are challenges associated with this model, such as those arising from the increased cost of higher education and differences in cultures between universities and companies, which may not think to look to an MA programme for project support. However, these are not insurmountable and as such the MA Innovation in Practice and the Post Graduate Innovation Apprenticeships both offer unique ways of leveraging university teaching expertise, innovation, and a hands-on approach to collaboration and consultancy. 

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