In-company degrees: Business embraces education

By | August 23, 2011

morrisonsStanding in a queue for tickets at the Edinburgh Festival last week, my mobile kept on ringing.  Waiting to go in to see Jonathan Agnew at the Edinburgh Book Festival, the same happened.  What were both journalists and our PR agency continually calling me for?

Comments on how Bradford University School of Management has been instrumental in developing forward thinking educational tie-ups with a UK leading business.

Now this would appear to be nothing new so why the interest?

Business and universities have worked together for years.  Indeed our own Executive Education offering has seen decades of successful collaborations.  What is new is how we are working with business to both capture and nurture good future talent at an early age.

We all know what’s happening in the world of higher education at the moment in terms of increased fees, potential job insecurity and question marks over the quality of today’s graduates.  At the School of Management we have a proud record of turning out exceptionally good business focused graduates but this is not necessarily the norm everywhere and employers are now starting to focus on getting the talent in prior to University.

Now, whilst all this is pertinent to today’s climate/environment, when I first started to think about the opportunities the credit crunch, let alone the recession, hadn’t even started. Yet, even in those good old days of financial security and growth what was really starting to occupy the minds of talent spotters in major organisations was that so many high potential graduates seemed to be focused on a career in financial services or consultancy, ignoring some of the traditional sectors which were, traditionally, and now could become again the bedrock of our economy.

So I developed an in-company degree. This was something different from traditional sandwich courses.  The degree would take three years, there would be a blend of in class, distance and work based learning, the degree could be achieved in around three years whilst the students also worked for the sponsoring organisation.  How could we do all this in three years? Not easy but doable. Scrap a couple of long summer vacations and suddenly whole blocks of time start to come free.  And this could become quite normal as education providers look to the possibilities of delivering a degree in two rather than three years.  So a BSc in Management and Business was developed and along came a forward thinking employer – Morrisons.  One of our big four supermarket chains, Morrisons has great plans for expansion. Unlike its competitors it is not only a retailer but Britain’s second largest food manufacturer as well.

Our degree is shortly to go into a second cohort and will hopefully has a long life ahead of it.  Students get the opportunity to earn while they learn with a guarantee of employment at the end.  In some ways it’s the best of both worlds but it requires hard work and application – something that itself is at the bedrock of the philosophy of Morrisons.

Is this the way forward in the future?  Yes and no.  Yes, more and more employers are going to look at getting the right talent early.  Also, the days of the promiscuous student (employment wise!) are past.  Careers for life might not be coming back but long term careers will be.  Those great opportunities of a year here and then a year there until when I decide what I want to do are no longer serious options.

So it’s very much a win win. But it’s not for everyone. Despite the increase in fees undergraduate demand will remain strong but not for everyone.  What we have done is something of a hybrid – appealing to people with an entrepreneurial and go getting spirit who also see the value of getting a degree and carving out a career in a major corporation.

Of course this isn’t very new at all.  Fellow students of mine were doing something similar with the services back in the 70s when I was at University.  Private organisations have taking somewhat longer to embrace the concept, but embracing it they most definitely are.

About Julian Rawel

Julian Rawel is Director of Executive Education at the School of Management. He has previously held positions of Groups Sales and Marketing Director, Eurocamp plc and Marketing Director, Royal Armouries Museum. Julian has been a non executive director of travel industry bodies ABTA and AITO. He has a BA in Geography from Leicester University and an MSc in Tourism Management from Manchester Metropolitan University. Julian is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a Chartered Marketer.

Specialties:  Consumer and business marketing, Branding, General management, Management development