Successful collaboration between businesses and universities is dependent on the same quality as any successful relationship – trust and a common goal. Both parties need to understand what they are putting in, what they are getting out, and ultimately trust that they will each receive a mutual benefit.

The most commonly considered model is when business provides funding to a higher education institution in return for their research; it is a strong model with many successful examples. However, what does collaboration look like when your stock in trade is not really intellectual property but people?

Investing in the relationship

HSBC sees universities as an important partner, not least because they provide a key talent pool from which we recruit. This is of course a reciprocal relationship. Universities want to ensure their graduates find suitable employment and we are keen to work with them to ensure we get the right graduates.

This means ensuring we are in active dialogue about graduate opportunities and also developing more active collaborations. A good example is how HSBC will support the new degree apprenticeship standard, which is seeing financial services companies, awarding bodies and universities developing a joint framework to submit for Government endorsement.

We are also playing a growing role as facilitator. Looking back at my starting point of big business funding research, access to research is equally as valuable to SMEs but many do not know how higher education institutions can access it. Our regional relationship managers increasingly seek to connect opportunities between our university and business clients. One example is a Northern Powerhouse Conference we ran in November 2016, attended by senior leaders of corporates, local authorities and universities in the North and facilitated a number of meaningful business connections.

A marriage made in the Midlands

What that boils down to is an understanding of the local context. This brings me to the second part of my subject – the balance between having the right people and being in the right place. You may be aware of HSBC UK’s Head Office move to Birmingham – we see this as the right place for us to build a better bank for our customers and people.

One of the first things our teams began to do ahead of the move was build stronger relationships with universities in the Midlands. Why? Because we want to invest in the city and region – and we want the best and brightest graduates attending those universities to want to remain in the region after they graduate.

Looking specifically at the University of Birmingham, we are forging a very strong relationship and we were able to bring them onto the degree apprenticeship standard project board. They have announced their intention to develop a flagship building next to our new headquarters so I hope our collaboration will go from strength to strength. We see this as a real opportunity to build a lasting relationship that benefits not only HSBC and the universities but also the entire region.

So, right people or right place? It is of course both, and one tends to follow the other. As with business university collaboration if you get the conditions right, relationships will flourish.

Francesca McDonagh, Head of Retail
Banking and Wealth Management HSBC Bank plc
UK and Europe

With 19 years industry experience, Francesca leads the retail bank for HSBC in UK and Europe, including the first direct and M&S Bank brands. Her passion is anticipating and adapting to changes in retail behaviour and ensuring the right customer outcome in an increasingly digital and complex environment. She relishes the opportunity to nurture talent and in 2016, was appointed to the Board of the National Centre for Universities and Business.