The need to develop Higher Education graduates with the skills and knowledge required by employers is an essential component of regional economic growth. One of the current high profile needs, is the skills and knowledge set of innovation.

In preparation for the development of a national innovation plan, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy state: “Innovation can transform lives. It can help us face some of our biggest challenges, from energy supply and food security, to demographic change and the delivery of public services. It enables business to develop new ideas, products and services, and create new jobs and export opportunities.” (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Consultation: 2016).

New College Durham was approached by Business Durham in 2015 to support the development of Durham County Council’s strategy to attract innovative businesses and organisations to the County. New College Durham and Business Durham worked in partnership to identify a knowledge and skill set which would enable graduates of higher education programmes to be equipped as potential employee innovators.

This was achieved through the development of a new level 5 module titled, Innovation, Idea Generation and Enterprise, which has been integrated into Foundation Degree provision at the College. (New College Durham has held Foundation Degree Awarding Powers since 2011).

For Sean King, College Staff Innovation Champion, the impact has been clear. “The Foundation Degree students are really enjoying their studies of innovation this academic year, gathering the skills and knowledge to develop them to be innovative thinkers and practitioners.” Sean added “The support from Business Durham for the delivery of the learning has been fantastic, and has enabled students to see innovation in action at the North East Technology Part (NETPark). It has also opened up the opportunity to work on projects with global innovators across the county.”

The delivery of this new module is being supported by Business Durham through the supplying of specialist speakers from industry and visits to innovative business organisations in the County, including NETPark. As part of the project, the College have designated College Innovation Staff Champions.

“The innovation module has made me think in a different way about solving problems and I feel like it is an integral part of my learning and experience. The trip to NETPark was an inspiration for my future projects and business ideas because of the way it expanded and nurtured my ability to think differently and creatively.”  Rhiannon Hardy, Computing and Networking Foundation Degree student

As an approved Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs (IOEE), the College was interested to see if the new module developed with Business Durham could be accredited as an award. Following a joint mapping exercise with IOEE, it was established that students who complete the Foundation Degree module in Innovation, Idea Generation and Enterprise could be awarded the IOEE Level 4 Award in Creativity and Innovation.

This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.