Photo Credit: UNIT4 NA

The recent history of higher education has been undeniably turbulent. Change has affected every aspect of the sector; although this presents threats to established institutions, it also presents opportunities. As Managing Director of the largest supplier of administrative technology solutions to the UK sector, one of the biggest opportunities is to collaborate with our higher and further education customers to develop technologies that can help Universities be more efficient, while at the same time deliver better services to the community on campus.

To collaborate effectively we have developed a true ‘partnership’ approach, combining our skill in technology with the innovative minds in education. One recent example of the sort of collaboration that can benefit all stakeholders is between UNIT4 and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The Universities faced considerable research administration challenges – increased competition for research grants, greater reporting for compliance and larger research projects often involving multiple organisations etc. The existing research management systems were not capable of managing the added complexity and volume of work.

To remedy this situation they considered two options, either develop a system in house or work with a specialist software company to develop a solution that would simplify the management of research administration. Well I am very pleased that they chose the second option.

The fruit of 15-months of development, testing and honing is UNIT4’s Agresso Research Costing and Pricing solution. Essentially it is a comprehensive costing, pricing and approval tool for the production of accurate cost estimations and agreement on appropriate prices for grant applications for all sizes of organisation.

“The collaborative approach has been particularly beneficial for all those involved and the wider sector. Together our individual skills add up to more than the sum of their parts, we have both brought ideas to the table that could not have been realised in isolation.”

The collaborative approach has been particularly beneficial for all those involved and the wider sector. Together our individual skills add up to more than the sum of their parts, we have both brought ideas to the table that could not have been realised in isolation. It’s not just the creative process that has benefited, it has also been the long term efficiency of each partner.

The Universities are in the business of research, they are not in the business of creating software. By working with us they get ready made expertise in the latest technology. Also by agreeing with us that UNIT4 could take the module to market after its completion they knew that they could expect a high-quality end product delivered by a committed partner. Also other institutions would benefit from their input.

From UNIT4’s perspective we supplemented our own in knowledge of research with some of the greatest minds in the business. The huge experience, creativity and skill of both Universities run through the DNA of Agresso Research Costing and Pricing. If you want more specifics Cambridge and Oxford have written about the project here.

We also worked closely with Swansea University to develop Agresso Graduate Progression which manages the pathways post-graduate students take through the University. The care and attention to detail brought to the project by both Swansea and UNIT4 has helped create another solution that we are both very proud of, a solution that addresses the need to provide students with the highest levels of service by equipping academics/sponsors and faculty administrators with detailed information on post-graduates’ progress.

Technology has a huge role to play in tackling sector change, but it mustn’t be technology for technology’s sake, it must be technology crafted to optimise educational services, which is why our customers’ input is so important.

A key pillar supporting this belief is the UNIT4 user group. It provides a forum for engaged and passionate education customers to share experiences, suggestions for improvements, shortcuts and best practice. They are funded and supported by UNIT4 and provide all parties with an opportunity to develop relationships and find the mutually beneficial scenarios that we value so highly at UNIT4.

We work with hundreds of post-16 education institutions here in the UK and across the globe. The message they bring to us is clear – they need the right technological infrastructure to help them address sector change and make a tangible contribution to better research and educational services – we think the best way to achieve this blurs the supplier/customer tag, it is more of a partnership approach founded on listening, advising and capitalising on our respective strengths.

Anwen Robinson is Managing Director for UNIT4 Business Software Limited and is responsible for the UK & Ireland subsidiary of UNIT4 Group, which specialises in change enabling software solutions for Higher Education, Public and Commercial organisations. You can follow Anwen on Twitter here: @anwenrobinson.

Are you a business wanting to collaborate with academia? What are your thoughts on this partnership approach? Comment below or Tweet us @NCUBtweets. Click here to see our featured success stories.

Blogs that may interest you:

Universities and business: Each are stronger when they work together

What’s business got to do with universities?

Universities must make it easier for small businesses says NUS Vice-President

Top 5 ways small businesses can collaborate with universities