Queens-KTNAlthough KTP nationally celebrated its’ 40th anniversary this year, KTP didn’t really get off the ground at Queen’s until the late 1980s.

The initiative was known in those days as the Teaching Company Scheme, and early projects with our University employed multiple Associates in partnerships with large companies like Short’s, Harland & Wolff and British Telecom.

The success of that experience led Queen’s to turn its attention to the multiple potential benefits that could be gained from working with SMEs, the corner stone of our economy in Northern Ireland. With seed funding from our local development agency in late 1993, the KTP Office was set up at Queen’s. I came on board in January 1994 and I’ve been privileged to lead the work since then.

In those early years, KTP and other business collaborations weren’t high on the list of academic priorities for Queen’s. Now they are recognised as a valuable part of the university’s purpose, reflecting the changes in how we derive our income and the impact agenda being driven by our funders in the Research Councils. Indeed, the KTP Office itself is now in an ideal site at the heart of the Research & Enterprise Directorate.

At the beginning, it also wasn’t always easy to convince businesses of what they had to gain from working with Queen’s. Northern Ireland companies fight hard for success, they punch increasingly above their weight but their links with academia were limited. We weren’t seen as natural partners in their campaign for growth in the cut and thrust of the competitive business world.

However, times have changed, and since 1993 we have had 350 successful KTPs at Queen’s University, leading to careers for 400 Associates, generating many millions in profits for the Northern Ireland economy, creating 700 jobs and nearly £70m investment in plant and machinery. Our KTP partnerships with business have generated 1,000 research projects for Queen’s, the publication of 700 research papers and articles, the engagement of many academics and the development of important, long-term collaboration with business.

KTP at Queen’s has become the standard-bearer for the whole of the UK. We consistently top the UK league table for both quantity and quality, even though the pool of businesses in Northern Ireland is a relatively small one. We have won 18 national awards for our projects, for our academics and our KTP Associates.

If there is one word which sums up why KTP at Queen’s has been so successful it is – understanding. We understand the local economy, we understand the development needs of local business, we understand the capabilities of our university and, most importantly, we understand how to bring it all together.

KTP at Queen’s has had much success to celebrate, but there is so much more to come. We have built a momentum which we will continue to work hard to carry forward, and we are helped in this by the support of Invest NI which has become an important catalyst, both in helping to identify new KTP projects and in providing additional funding.

We are enhancing the reputation of Queen’s and Northern Ireland beyond these shores. Our strategy for identifying new opportunities and turning them into active partnerships has been shared and adopted on a national scale and is becoming a model for others further afield. Recently, I was delighted to visit South Africa as a guest of the British Council to talk about KTPs and their impact.

And there was a very important recognition of our work when I received an MBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours for my services to Higher Education in Northern Ireland. That was a proud moment for me personally and for my family, but it is also an award which acknowledges the drive and commitment of my KTP team and their outstanding work for the advancement of Queen’s and Northern Ireland.

Dr Mary Flynn is Head KTP & Business Networks, Queen’s University Belfast