HE STEM Project wins Lord Stafford award for 'Open Collaboration'

The Touch-Points project, led by Jill Stewart, Head of Engineering at Lincoln and recently appointed Fellow of the Institute of Engineers, was funded by the Midlands and East Anglia spoke to deliver the skills sought by employers within a Mechanical Engineering degree programme.

This project is innovative in a number of ways: Firstly, a significant element of the course is delivered by industry-based engineers and the final year project has been extended from 30 to 45 credits to allow students to deliver useful outputs that have real value to the company and gain credits for this. Secondly, industry involvement permeates the entire degree syllabus and is not just limited to isolated project-based modules as is more typically the case with industry sponsored projects.

The Touch-Points project is also unique in that it provides genuine (as opposed to simulated) industry practice within the academic syllabus, and the delivery and assessment of the module is “adapted to give students a realistic experience of the product development process” The Touch-Points project has also created an opportunity for academics and industry to work closely together to map the requirements of industry onto module learning outcomes. Industry tutors were given the freedom to deliver their chosen elements however they wished, and academic tutors then developed their own materials to suit the touch-point rather than imposing an academic structure on industry practice. This collaboration will now be facilitated by the appointment of a dedicated ‘business manager’ by the school to work with Siemens HR professions in future delivery.

The Touch-Points project was hugely successful in that it mushroomed from what was originally intended to be collaboration with one single employer (Siemens) into a network of 6 employers with more on the waiting list. A series of press articles and a growing local reputation has led to a number of companies requesting involvement with the school and with this project.  The number of touch-Points also grew from an initial 4 to 20. During an accreditation visit, the IMechE reported that the standards achieved by students were extremely high, and that students appeared to be a year ahead of where they were expected to be.

Another unexpected impact/outcome was that the school of Engineering was able to accredit some of Siemens’ internal courses to contribute towards CAT points. The school is also working with IMechE to accredit internal courses for CPD points, and so a win-win collaborative endeavour has been established. In November 2011, this unique relationship won the Lord Stafford award for ‘open collaboration’, and the Touch-Points programme was a key feature of the application and was specifically mentioned in the citation. At the awards ceremony, held at the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall, Lord Stafford, patron of the award, said:

“This is an example of a superb link-up between a major employer and the Higher Education provider in a city to create a facility which is beneficial to both partners. ...This is collaboration at its very best and really shows what the Lord Stafford award is all about.”

For more details of the project see http://www.hestem.ac.uk/activity/developing-graduates-employability-skills-touch-points.