Academics with businesses in their sights

How one university is using its education credentials to boost its commercial productivity.

Productivity is a national challenge in the UK as every business faces mounting pressure to drive efficiencies and reduce costs.

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is one of the institutions searching for a solution. It has created a regionally focused Centre for SME Development, where local businesses are given free membership and access to the university’s support and expertise when it comes to addressing concerns around skills, growth, funding – and of course, productivity.

“The Centre encourages the sharing of best practice and provides opportunities to link with UCLan’s student and staff communities.”

Although small and medium-sized enterprises make up 99pc of businesses in the UK, a lack of business education as part of the national curriculum means that their owners often have to learn how to deal with problems as they arise. UCLan is helping to bridge the knowledge gap.

“There is a strong case for teaching young people the fundamentals of business at school,” says Prof Sue Smith, director of the Centre for SME Development. “But it’s never too late to learn, which is where we step in.”

The Centre for SME Development is a support and knowledge hub giving the business community access to the resources available at UCLan. The Centre encourages the sharing of best practice and provides opportunities to link with UCLan’s student and staff communities.

“The network created by membership is there to bring people together to overcome key challenges and help nurture the region’s SMEs,” says Prof Smith. “Our aim is to improve them and create value. For example through a digital marketing workshop or a growth clinic where experts are on hand to discuss members’ issues and where they will receive advice and support.”

Solving Britain’s productivity crisis
While UCLan’s focus is regional Professor Smith says that the national productivity issue in its sights and that local improvements should be able to scale across the UK.

The centre has already delivered huge economic benefit to the area: funding from external sources is currently standing at £21m for business support projects, and the organisation is set to reach and develop more than 1,000 SMEs in Lancashire.

“The centre works with the business community, our academic colleagues and in collaboration with local agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce and the regional councils and business support organisations,” says Prof Smith, “and that means we can maximise our positive social, environmental and economic impact.

“In any business, investment is key to growth, but if you’re not investing properly, you’re throwing money away. Our next step is to grow our membership to reach and support more SMEs. We also want to strengthen our ties with government so that we can work in unison with other anchor institutions, because we see connection and co-operation as being fundamental to progress and innovation.”

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