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by Gail Boag, Edinburgh Napier Business School
01 February 2021
Associate feature: How universities can be the springboard for economic recovery

Associate feature: How universities can be the springboard for economic recovery

COVID-19, and the restrictions required as a direct consequence, have created an unparalleled jobs crisis.

In past decades this would have taken years to reverse, and in its first Quarterly Economic Indicator of 2021, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) acknowledged the scale of the challenge and called for “a sustained programme of business support” to drive the economic recovery now needed.

We know we are ideally placed at the Business School to deliver a programme of support that will enhance the recovery plans of businesses across Scotland.

Our mission statement reflects our focus on applied knowledge and our commitment to providing support that is directly relevant to business needs.

It calls on us to deliver high quality education that connects knowledge and skills with industry-related, impactful research and innovation; and develop graduates who confident, skilled, work-ready and highly employable.

Our links with industry are strong, and our focus on applied practice-based learning positions us – together with Scotland’s universities collectively – at the heart of efforts to develop and embed the skills needed to accelerate recovery.

Today, Edinburgh Napier Business School (ENBS) is one of the largest modern business schools in Scotland. In normal academic years our Craiglockhart campus would play host to more than 8,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students, typically joining us from more than 100 nations.

All are attracted by, and thrive on, our mix of academic challenge blended with skills and learning that are directly relevant to the world of work.

In November 2020, ENBS participated in the ‘Road to Recovery’, a conference organised by Holyrood magazine to reflect on the recommendations in Towards a Robust, Resilient Wellbeing Economy for Scotland. Discussions centred on the call made in that Report for an “education-led” recovery.

This must support young people and benefit as many in the workforce as possible, by upskilling those in work or reskilling those impacted by the recession.

We are already playing a central role in shaping a successful response to the challenges we now face.

Together with our partners we are actively developing ways to extend access to the opportunities that will arise as the economy improves. We are supporting the development of new skills and widening access to higher education through our online and blended learning programmes, continuous professional development and short course programme. 

We are also expanding ways to provide flexible pathways for those in work to upskill: both in Scotland and internationally. Examples include a free MOOC (massive open online course) run twice in 2020, which looked at using data to develop opportunities for small tourism businesses, and a new short course launched by The British Council in January 2021, to support leaders of festivals in India.

We have been directly involved in the government’s Scottish Tourism Task Force, which recommended the new talent development programme recently launched for leaders, managers and supervisors.

Graduates of our Destination Leadership Programme, run in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, mentored and supported four workgroups during the first lockdown: they focused on strategies to sustain the Scottish Tourism Strategy 2030 and outcomes included an interactive toolkit developed for visitor attractions.

We have expanded our Graduate Apprenticeship programme significantly, and by delivering more work-based learning, training and upskilling opportunities for young people we can support the Government’s Young Persons Guarantee, which ensures everyone aged between 16 and 24 will have the opportunity of work, education or training.

These steps reflect our strong existing partnerships and coordinated action aimed at enhancing the employability of the broadest population in our community; from school leavers to older workers who want to retrain for new opportunities. All want to be confident, skilled, work-ready and highly employable in the emerging workforce.

We also work closely with our partners in further education to provide direct entry routes to many courses, including those with professional accreditation.

ENBS is also proud to host the Impact Investment Symposium. It brings together philanthropists, investors and social entrepreneurs to look at ways to support those already engaged in the well-being economy and business for purpose.

We also value our involvement with the Responsible Business Forum, part of the Edinburgh Cities Can-B programme. Through that forum we support SME’s by using an Action Plan to help them embed one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals into their business mission.

Industry 4.0 + well-being

Employers highlight that the emerging economy will demand more partnership working, and Skills Development Scotland has called for employees to develop meta-skills to ‘manage the now, connect with the world, and create our own change’.

To ensure our graduates have the desired skill set, we have introduced the Employability Skills Programme across all our undergraduate programmes, ensuring students can evidence their own communication, critical thinking and creative thinking skills, and experience in collaborative working.

The Business School for business

As the largest School within Scotland’s number one modern university*, ENBS recognise the role we must play in developing business leaders who demonstrate innovative and entrepreneurial leadership and management.

We engage with businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to global brands, and our research and knowledge exchange activity - such as our series of Reflective Papers on latest thinking in HR - make a positive and sustained difference to practice at local, national and international level.

From events and festivals to Islamic finance, from digital strategy to governance, our application-oriented research helps our audiences to make informed decisions and deal with the issues they confront day-to-day.

Research themes include health and wellbeing, culture and communities, smart places and environment, and sustainability - all priority themes in the government’s agenda for economic recovery.

COVID-19 accelerated many changes that were already evident in our evolving economy; from the rise of online retailing to the scale of the zero carbon economy.

Recovery will need empowered enterprising graduates who can apply their learning for immediate impact, whether that comes from starting new businesses or helping existing businesses to respond to opportunities presented by technology, data-driven insights or the burgeoning green economy.

We must now expand access to tertiary education, align learning opportunities to career progression, and provide the necessary funding to support our young people and help everyone reach their full potential in the emerging workplace.

Universities Scotland welcomed the £75m from Scottish Government last summer, which replaced some of the lost research income that is so vital for universities in normal years.

But extending opportunity will depend on Scotland’s Higher Education sector receiving the investment needed to maintain its leading position.

Scotland leads in innovation, and can undoubtedly create jobs and growth, but we must invest in tertiary education to help everyone reach their potential and cultivate the personal and professional meta-skills of independent thinking, critical analysis and reflective learning.

Now, to secure the best future for the generation who we will all rely on to expand the knowledge economy, “we will need our colleges and universities more than ever going forward.” So said the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Richard Lochhead last year. We couldn’t agree more.

Gail Boag is dean of Edinburgh Napier Business School. This piece was sponsored by Edinburgh Napier.

*Edinburgh Napier University was named top modern university in Scotland by the Sunday Times’ Good University Guide 2021.


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