Business Leader spoke to Martin Boddy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at UWE Bristol to learn how the university is preparing its students for working life – and the impact of UWE’s influence on the region’s economy.
What sets UWE Bristol students and graduates apart as they enter the world of work?
We are repeatedly told by businesses we work with that UWE Bristol students are highly-desirable employees, which is fantastic to hear and a sign we are doing something right! The feedback we get is our students arrive prepared and fully equipped to start their careers – they’re enterprising, keen, and ready for work. Studying at UWE Bristol is not just about the course they study, but about the wider skills and attitudes we equip them with. Six months after graduation, 96% of UWE Bristol students are in work or further study – well ahead of the national average.
How can students best prepare themselves for their future careers?
Employers will always need strong subject skills, but graduates also need to be enterprising, digitally agile, have good interpersonal skills, and have the attitude to hit the ground running. At UWE Bristol, we work hard to give them opportunities to learn and develop these key skills, but also to network with industry professionals, employers and the best business leaders in the country.
Our Bristol Distinguished Address Series (BDAS) brings in CEOs from all sectors to speak on campus, which is a brilliant chance for our students to hear from national and international stars, ask questions and meet our guests. At a recent event, Deanna Oppenheimer, Chair of Hargreaves Lansdown, was extremely impressed with the calibre of questions from students and generously stayed to meet them and share her thoughts on how they could meet their future goals. It’s that level of engagement and connections we’re aiming to offer.
What are the advantages for a business to take on student placements?
We aim to give all students the opportunity for a placement with an employer or equivalent experience. We know this really turbo-charges their potential to secure employment. But we also know – because they tell us – that employers really value the opportunity to host students. Businesses find placement students make an impactful contribution to their activities, maybe help them to think a bit differently – but also contribute on the longer term to the bottom line. We are confident our students add real value. A placement can also be an eight-week long interview, and students are often offered employment where they have placements.
UWE Bristol is the largest university in the South West, and a major regional employer – how important to you is the university’s contribution to the South West economy?
Very important – in fact, it’s a vital part of how we operate, by recognising and developing our role in the region. We are among the largest employers in the South West, the largest purchasers of goods and services and we have nearly 30,000 students, many of whom live locally and contribute to the economy through their spending.
We commissioned an economic impact survey which revealed one in every 79 jobs in Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset and North Somerset was dependent on UWE Bristol’s existence. Altogether, the university supported 8,280 jobs in the region and contributed £400.1m to its economy in 2014/15. We’ve grown in size and ambition since then, so I’m sure that has only increased and that’s a huge source of pride for us. We’re a university for Bristol and the wider region.
How is UWE Bristol looking to the future, and preparing students for new challenges?
We are hugely ambitious, and have a clear vision for the next ten years outlined in our 2030 strategy. We’re focusing on our contribution to addressing key challenges, both regionally and globally, including sustainability and climate change, the future of creative and digital sectors, engineering, health and wellbeing, and the ageing population. Our aim is to work with businesses to meet future skills needs, aligning what we teach our students to what employers will need.
It’s also a priority to equip students for major changes in technology. How do we prepare our students for an ever-changing workplace? We know they will need to be adaptable to unknown and challenging futures – how can we embed these skills across all courses? In an increasingly competitive jobs market, these things help our graduates stand out.