Creating an academic community for business and law

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Experiential learning, professional development and collaboration with industry are among the opportunities for staff joining Coventry University’s Faculty of Business and Law

In the past five years, there has been an unprecedented increase in demand to study law and business at Coventry University, with its Faculty of Business and Law increasing student numbers by 60 per cent during the period. Faculty staff now teach about 8,500 students from more than 100 countries. Its dean, Heather McLaughlin (pictured below), acknowledges that the faculty’s expansion is a “nice position to be in”, but says it requires dedicated workforce planning and a significant investment in staff attraction and development. However, with Coventry due to become the UK City of Culture in 2021, the city and its university have a lot to offer the latter’s new recruits.

Coventry was one of the first universities to expand its international reach, says McLaughlin. EU citizens make up 12 per cent of its student population and international students 41 per cent – figures that she attributes to the faculty’s work securing international partnerships and direct recruitment overseas.

About 3,000 students study with Coventry’s overseas academic partners but most international students are on campus. Collaborative International Learning enables them to take part “virtually” in projects with peers in other institutions internationally.

Coventry tops the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s student mobility ranking, and staff who want to expand the international aspect of their role are encouraged to do so through academic partnerships or partnerships with industry. “More is expected of academics now than just teaching and research,” says McLaughlin. “There are four broad areas: teaching, research, international efforts, and entrepreneurship and innovation. We’re keen to develop staff along whatever path they choose.”

The environment for students at Coventry focuses on experiential learning – something that will prove crucial to how they adapt to the business world and its ever-shifting legal framework. Facilities for business and law students on campus include a trading floor, a strategy lab and a boardroom simulator. There’s even a mock courtroom, known as the “Moot Room”, which hosts an annual mooting competition, complete with gowns and wigs.

But while the physical environment is key, the faculty also aims to ready students for the challenges of planning careers “that might not even exist yet”. “We’re conscious of the need to make people digitally competent but also recognise that the human dimension will be important,” says McLaughlin. She also emphasises creativity, communication, leadership and critical thinking. “We live in an age where there’s so much information that we’re helping them to sift through and find what’s important.”

The growing shift towards start-up culture is not ignored at Coventry, with many students attracted to business entrepreneurship modules and the university’s International Centre for Transformational Entrepreneurship. The centre focuses on leadership, education and innovation in entrepreneurship, and aims to support sustainable socio-economic development, so that there is a positive impact for the communities in which future businesses operate.

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How education is delivered is also moving with the times. If students can call up a video of a management guru discussing their principles on YouTube, they may question the need to attend lectures. In response, Coventry promotes “authentic professional learning”. As well as facilities that mirror real workplaces, and extensive opportunities for placements and internships, it has invested in blended learning, which makes the student experience far more interactive.

This shift from one-way knowledge transfer to a more collaborative approach has also influenced hiring strategies. “When we recruit, we’re looking for people with that mindset, who are flexible, keen to adapt and embrace new thinking,” says McLaughlin. At Coventry, effort goes into creating an academic community. The university has invested in a physical workspace that is set up for debate, while regular communication with the Faculty of Business and Law’s growing staff body is crucial, too. McLaughlin adds: “You’re not sitting in a darkened room doing your research – you want an exchange of ideas.”

Many of the new staff at the faculty joined from businesses or the legal profession, something which is supported through mentorship and the opportunity to study for a postgraduate certificate in higher education. Some have pursued PhDs while working, which has increased the number of staff with doctorates from 40 per cent in 2014 to 75 per cent currently. “There’s been a step change in the quality of our staff, in terms of the qualifications they have and the breadth of their experience,” says McLaughlin.

Early career researchers, meanwhile, have access to a programme called Aspire, which helps them with writing, offers mentorship and helps to set up research collaborations. There is a structured approach to internal promotion but talented staff will always be able to progress, says McLaughlin. “There are plenty of opportunities to take on leadership responsibility, as it’s such a big faculty,” she adds.

During this period of growth, investing in hiring means that the faculty’s existing staff are not overburdened, which enables them to pursue their professional development and career advancement.

“Some step up to leadership activities, others ensure they ring-fence their research activities – we have mechanisms to make sure people can keep doing what they’re good at,” says McLaughlin.

There is a constant process of assessing the skills required and where the gaps might be. For those looking to teach in a vibrant environment alongside colleagues from a diverse range of backgrounds and potentially explore opportunities overseas, Coventry University’s Faculty of Business and Law has become a prime destination.

Find out more about Coventry University at THEunijobs