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The four key steps to writing a successful funding bid

The art to writing successful funding bids lies in your vision – and assembling a crack team to enact it. Rob Waterson offers his tips

University of East London
7 Dec 2023
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The University of East London’s Hospital & Primary Care Training Hub is a European first in end-to-end simulated health and social care practice.

Offering virtual reality and responsive mannequins, the simulation technology creates realistic scenarios to boost students’ confidence in mock intensive care units, A&E and general wards.

It was developed thanks to a grant of £8.3 million awarded by the Office for Students, plus a further £2 million in University of East London funds.

Here’s what we did to make the bid effective.

Have a clear vision

Look at what you want to achieve by creating a thorough business case and vision statement. You need a strategic plan for success, and this means starting at the end goal and working backwards to see how to achieve your vision. For us, that vision was addressing health inequalities in our local community and responding to the needs of the NHS workforce through the expansion of our Stratford Health Campus. Equality, diversity and inclusion are incredibly important to our mission and were key considerations in our application from the start.

We wrote that our vision was to create a world-class simulated learning hub, due to the shortage of placement opportunities in clinical settings as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We wanted to create an end-to-end hub to give students from all backgrounds more learning opportunities than they had pre-pandemic. Intensive care units were crucial in the Covid era, so the creation of this type of simulated learning environment was key.

To better reflect our locale’s rich diversity, simulation mannequins with different skin tones, reflecting the population the students would serve, were necessary. This would allow students to recognise conditions on different skin colours. Venepuncture arms from different ethnic backgrounds are used for cannulation and injections.

Ask yourself the important questions

You must identify the expertise you need and recognise that this can be different from a research grant bid. Do you have experience in-house, such as an architect? Consider bringing in an external adviser.

During the design phase, collaborate with key partners to investigate what is and isn’t current. Enhance your relationships with industry partners and garner their expert knowledge. For us, this was with Health Education England and local NHS partners such as the North East London NHS Foundation Trust and Homerton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which use similar tools so there is a joined-up way of working.

Our NHS and social care partnerships were vital in deciding and agreeing upon a vision. We very much operated it as a business bid, which made it different from other bids.

If you will be delivering partnerships as part of the project, what do you need them to deliver? What will good (and bad) student and staff engagement look like?

Consider what return on investment means to you. Use data to show how funding will affect research output, student numbers, educational outcomes, the student experience and staff retention. Define how you’ll measure improvements.

What does your internal funding look like – will you need further external capital? Don’t be cash tight when budgeting costs to achieve your vision.

And be open-minded – your vision might change. The operational side of our Hospital & Primary Care Training Hub has changed a lot since our bid, and building costs have also dramatically increased, so looking ahead as far as possible is key, particularly when tech such as VR and AI is evolving all the time. You must ensure what you are developing is fit for change and adaptable for continual changes in the market.

The university match-funded the bid, and the original budget did stretch far enough to accommodate rising costs.

Put a strong hierarchy in place

One strong leader is needed to be a decision maker. Ensure it is someone who can ensure that sign-offs are achieved and timelines are met.

In the core working group for bid writing and successful project execution, have one to two key academic colleagues, one to two colleagues from estates, one finance lead and one from strategic planning to help on the data side. A distinct team writing the bid in one clear voice is also recommended. Make sure there are fresh eyes during the process, too. Have a critical friend read it over well before the deadline.

Look to the future

If successful with your bid, and you are considering further development, look at the lessons learned and what you can build on in terms of the success of the school.

Engage your stakeholders early when thinking of going for a further bid.

We used the Continuous Quality Improvement model that we teach and practise – Plan, Do, Study, Act – to shape and plan the bid, and later to enact the project development.

Initially, we bid for £2.5 million for phase one, so we used the same formula again to bid for funding for phase two – and were awarded £5.8 million in a highly competitive process.

Our hub is a showcase for the university’s commitment to innovating educational technologies and interprofessional practice and tackling health inequalities in a tech-driven world.

Through our engagement with the NHS and local communities, we can review what alternative models of training can be established to support the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. We are also carrying out a portfolio review and considering ways to further tackle health inequalities through our teaching.

Rob Waterson is dean of the School of Health, Sport & Bioscience at the University of East London.

The university’s Hospital and Primary Care Training Hub has been shortlisted for Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards 2023 #THEAwards. See the full list of shortlisted candidates. Winners will be announced at a ceremony on 7 December in Liverpool.

Academics and university leaders from across the UK and Ireland will come together on 6-7 December at THE Campus Live UK&IE to talk about institutional strategies, teaching and learning, the student experience and more. Join us for this two-day event in Liverpool.

If you would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the Campus newsletter.

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