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With over 6,000 distance learners studying apprenticeships across the UK, Derwentside College in Durham and its team of external assessors rely on ICT systems to deliver a first-class educational experience to students and their employers.

Now that competition for funding is growing, FE organisations are also increasingly competing against each other to recruit more students and contribute to the Government’s target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020.

Derwentside College is a leader in apprenticeship provision in the North East. In order to maintain and build on its position, the College recruited a group of final year business students from Northumbria University to investigate how its ICT systems could be better utilised to enhance its external assessment processes and identify where efficiencies and improvements could be made.

Louis Duncan, technology and innovation manager at Derwentside College explains: “We provide education and training to thousands of apprentices working in a vast range of job roles with different employers and industry sectors around the country. This presents huge challenges around communication and logistics for our external assessment team.

“I approached the Business Clinic team at Northumbria University to see if some of the region’s brightest business minds could review our approach and ask them if there are ways we could better maintain contact between assessors and learners through improved use of IT.

“The students’ report and presentation provided strategic recommendations on how to achieve this. In essence, they said we have the right technology in place but there is more we can do to aid the user experience which we are now planning to roll-out in the new academic year.

“Working with the Business Clinic has been a great experience. The students were professional and organised throughout the process. They conducted interviews with programme assessors, learners and employers to gain a thorough understanding of how each group uses our ICT systems. I think the Business Clinic programme is an extremely innovative initiative that many organisations could benefit from.”

The Business Clinic at Northumbria University’s Newcastle Business School, is an education scheme whereby a group of business students participate in a ‘consultancy firm’ to provide advice for clients.

The service is available to all types of businesses from SMEs and multinationals through to not-for-profit organisations. Students are encouraged to get to the root of the problem, deliver results and provide a detailed report and presentation of their recommendations.

In 2017, the Business Clinic was ‘Highly Commended’ by the British Academy of Management Education Practice Awards Panel for its role in bringing students and businesses together to identify and deliver genuine solutions for real businesses.

Since the Business Clinic started five years ago, the total value of the students’ free consultancy advice and reports has been estimated by 220 client organisations to exceed £1.2m.

Nigel Coates, Director of the Business Clinic, said: “The Business Clinic initiative strengthens University-business collaboration, which is one of the most powerful drivers for business success. It also gives our business students a valuable opportunity to gain hands-on experience working for a real client on a real issue.

“Whilst more universities in the UK are emulating the Business Clinic model, Northumbria University Business School is different due to the sheer scale of our operation in terms of the number of clients and students who engage with us.

“Our students have helped many organisations through the scheme, and those clients have been instrumental in helping our students to gain a crucial competitive edge before entering the world of work.”

To find out more contact the Northumbria University Business Clinic at: https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/businessclinic.

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