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Supporting business throughout lockdown and into the new normal

Sarah Hillyear
Sarah Hillyear, Head of Business Development, reflects on the work that is being done by RGU to support businesses as they deal with the challenges of the global pandemic.

The full impact of COVID19 on the country’s economy is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt the effects will be significant and lasting. Throughout the period of lockdown, and now as restrictions ease and the economy starts to recover, the role of RGU and other higher education institutions is going to be vital.

One of the departments within RGU which has been particularly focussed on economic recovery and supporting businesses as they deal with the associated challenges, is Business and Economic Development (BAED). 

Sarah Hillyear, Head of Business Development, reflects on the work that has been done to date and what the future holds.

“Over the last few months we have recognised the unprecedented and significant challenges that businesses have been facing and we have considered how RGU can best support both now and in the future.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic we realised we needed a clear plan in place, so we set about a three-stage strategy which looked at, firstly, securing the business we had already won.

“One important area for this was to build on the excellent work of the team in recruiting Graduate Apprenticeships prior to lockdown, by supporting the companies to stay with us and confirm their places for a September 2020 start. Through ongoing engagement, we were actually able to maintain the committed number of businesses.  As activity has begun to pick up we have now started to add to that number and are still aiming to fill all 175 funded places. It will be a challenge but if we are successful, it will be testament to the hard work and commitment of everybody involved in the Graduate Apprenticeship programme at RGU.

“A further, and very positive development, has been the work done to secure Knowledge Transfer Projects (KTPs) and Innovation Vouchers. Targets for both have been exceeded, with RGU now number 1 in Scotland for the number of successful innovation voucher applications. Many of the Innovation Voucher projects are specifically associated with issues caused by the pandemic in areas such as respirator design and the deployment of new catalytic technologies to remove COVID-19 virus from water and wastewater.

“The second stage of our plan was to look at new initiatives which could be developed during lockdown. We recently launched RGU Knowledge Bites for Business with a particular focus on providing insights and thoughts to support companies as they start to recover post-lockdown.  

“The platform will share expertise from the university community, comprising of free-to-access short videos, articles, mini-courses and live interactive webinars designed to provide practical support for businesses now, as well as sharing how RGU’s services can support in the future.

“We have also supported the university as it rolls out its portfolio of short courses, some of which will be funded through the Scottish Funding Council and some will be at a significantly reduced fee. These start from 10 August and come on the back of the initial fully-funded portfolio launched in April, interest for which surpassed all expectations, with more than 1400 applications within 5 days. The new topics reflect industry needs and some of the challenges which will be faced post-pandemic.

 “The final part of our plan looks at how we can be on the front foot as we emerge from lockdown and progress into the ‘new normal’.

“One area that has been developed, led by our Commercial Manager, is ensuring that our internal processes are commensurate with risk and potential reward. Developments include a new proposal template, a new opportunity assessment process for all commercial activity and a revised authorisation process. These have been approved by the Executive and are in operation.

“We are constantly in talks with the business community about the challenges they face and are looking at ways to use the many areas of expertise we have within RGU to align with these. We are always grateful for the support and interest we receive from our colleagues in schools and other departments in helping to address these needs.

“Now, more than ever, our culture of collaboration is needed to ensure that RGU, the region and the wider community can create a ‘new normal’ which is productive, innovative and successful.”

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