Insights from HSBC’s Head of Public Sector & Education

SOURCE: Adrian Dennis/AFP
The financial offices of banks, including Barclays (R), Citi (L), and HSBC (2R).

By U2B Staff 

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There is untold potential and significant economic benefits to higher education teaming up with the private sector.

Game-changing innovation, life-saving cures, the commercialisation of valuable research; the possibilities across all number of industries are countless.

But while the benefits can’t be denied, making the collaborations happen, securing funding and ensuring the optimal outcome is not always that easy. That’s where HSBC UK can help.

The international bank has a branch dedicated to higher education and helping universities achieve their ambitions, in part through industry collaboration that ultimately benefits both parties.

Head of Public Sector & Education at HSBC UK, Suzy Verma, helps facilitate these collaborations.

U2B interviewed Verma to get the inside track on university-business collaborations and to understand the unique benefits – as well as challenges – involved in the cross-sector.

Here’s what she had to say…

Are there any common benefits for universities and business that come from collaboration?

There are clear common benefits for universities and business to collaborate. The two need to work in tandem, bring down silos and universities have a major part to play in terms of educating their local communities in terms of what they do and how they do it.  Universities have access to a huge talent profile which local businesses need to attract and simply retaining this talent in the region will enhance its economic output.

In addition, businesses can work with universities for research purposes. For example, the National Centre for Universities & Business has developed a tool – Konfer – that assists this very need. If a business has an issue they can submit this to Konfer and then a university or academics can assign that issue and help devise a solution.

Greater collaboration will lead to new, better and faster technologies, new inventions, diverse talent and skills for the future which ultimately will lead to a more prosperous country.

Do university-business collaborations help make a university more competitive in a swamped market?

There are a number of reasons why strong university-business collaborations make a university more competitive. For example, it offers an enhanced research impact if business can help support funding specific projects or PhDs, whilst closer links with business also increases employment opportunities for students through internships, placements or graduate programmes.

It can also lead to stronger global opportunities. Universities may select an international corporate that can introduce them to other real world issues globally or connect them to international partners, whilst there is evidence that strong relationships between a university and business helps support funding for graduate start-up businesses.

Can collaborations benefit wider society?

When executed successfully, collaboration between business and a university has clear benefits for wider society.

Primarily, it supports inward investment into the region, creating jobs and opportunities for a wider supply chain, and broader economic growth. New products are developed, the local workforce is upskilled and high-quality graduates are attracted to the specific location.

There are several other benefits, such as supporting the growth of SMEs in the region, encouraging commercial investment in community projects and supporting social mobility by widening participation.

Head of Public Sector & Education at HSBC UK bank, Suzy Verma, with HSBC UK staff.

Do you have any advice for universities and businesses looking to enter into a collaboration?

Do your research and understand what you each bring to the party and what your desired outcome should be. Understand early on what impact you are trying to achieve and identify your key stakeholders or source of funding, such as any grants or government support. Ensure you fully understand the type of partnership you are looking for, what you deem as success, what qualities you are looking for and that you both understand both parties’ expectations in full.

Importantly, ensure you have the buy-in of all senior leadership and the researchers and students who the partnership may impact, but also ensure you are undertaking partnerships which will benefit the wider student population.

Can university-business collaboration help bridge the skills gap facing numerous industries?

Yes, by working closely with industry to solve real-world issues or tailoring course offering to specific needs of industry, universities can help businesses tackle skills gaps. For example, HSBC UK has partnered with Aston University to create a Cyber Security module which will help graduates tackle real-world issues impacting UK corporates.

It also helps graduates develop on the ground experience, taking their learning from the lecture theatre to the shop floor. Placement years in industry for undergraduate students, supporting them with developing corporate skills and ensuring they have a path into a career following their graduation from university, have clear benefits.

University business collaboration also helps with research and the development of new technologies products, which can replace the need for certain skills plugging the gap.

How does HSBC help facilitate collaborations?

We utilise our large client base and broad international network to help universities connect with industry to support their aspirations.

On a practical level, we host sector events with universities, businesses and local authorities, typically selecting a common theme to facilitate a strong discussion to make connections. Our local business managers and relationship bankers create skills exchanges, knowledge hubs and workshops to develop talent.

We work closely with our tech team and speak to incubators and enterprise teams on fast growth or scale up businesses to help them understand the tools to grow their business.  We also have innovation labs in a number of countries where we may co-invest in technologies.

How do you see the future of university-business collaborations growing?

We expect to see them become more international, whilst I envisage more incentives from the UK government to increase the number of collaborations to help drive the skills agenda and support the industrial strategy. Also, I expect more work to encourage new start-ups to ensure the UK remains competitive and the country’s research output remains strong.