Traditionally, many universities have been ambivalent about undergraduates’ part-time jobs, recognising the imperative to earn money but fretting over the impact on study time.
At Edinburgh Napier University, there is a different attitude: students are encouraged to take on paid work and in future may be offered academic credit for their efforts.
However, they are unlikely to be able to put hours spent stacking shelves or serving up lattes towards their degrees. Instead, the roles that are available via the university are the sort that are likely to stay on graduates’ CVs for slightly longer, including opportunities in market research, graphic design and product development.
These are offered by Bright Red Triangle, the university’s “one-stop shop for extracurricular student enterprise activities”, which runs a commercial consulting practice.
Businesses that are looking for solutions to particular problems can approach the university, which will allocate a team of student “junior consultants” to the task. They will be assisted by “senior consultants” – either Edinburgh Napier academics or business leaders with experience of the topic in question.
The aim is to give students experience of tackling “real world” business problems, while offering companies a cost-effective alternative to commissioning professional consultants.
Students are paid for their efforts and the projects tend to be short term and flexible, allowing them to be fitted in around academic work.
Other examples of projects that have been completed by Bright Red Consultancy include due diligence on potential investments, conference planning and corporate videos.
Nick Fannin, business adviser at Edinburgh Napier’s School of Management, said the consultancy work had proved very popular with students. Over the past two years, there have been 500 applicants, with 60 students being taken on to work on 40 projects. Successful candidates gain experience that will prove invaluable in the job market, Mr Fannin explained.
“It’s about turning out well-rounded people that are able to function in the real world,” he said. “I think the reality is that they need these extracurricular experiences to give themselves the edge.”
In future, the university will consider whether students who work on several projects could be given academic credits for their efforts.
The benefits for businesses go beyond getting good-quality work done for a reasonable price, Mr Fannin continued.
“They are engaging with the university and giving young people a chance, but if they ‘try before they buy’ and get a decent student to work on a project, they have a good student to take on”, on a permanent basis, he said.
Entrepreneurship is also a major focus for the university. It hosts several incubators offering free office space to students, graduates and alumni, and in Scotland is second only to the University of Edinburgh in terms of student start-up activity.
Since the university opened its first incubator in 2004, it has helped about 300 businesses to launch, and 158 of these are still active. At any one time, about 50 students and graduates are using the incubators to develop their ideas for new enterprises.
Edinburgh Napier’s aim, Mr Fannin said, is for every student to be given an opportunity “to engage in an enterprise activity”. This does not have to sit apart from the university’s academic efforts, however.
One innovative part of Edinburgh Napier’s approach has been the development of materials and modules on entrepreneurial skills for all students, whatever course they are on.
The idea is that it is not just business students who need to know how to budget or negotiate, or even to draw up a business plan. These skills will be needed by students from a wide range of backgrounds, particularly those who choose a self-employed career, including musicians and creative writers.
“The reality is that these are enterprise skills, and that’s what we are teaching,” said Mr Fannin.
This focus reflects recognition that universities are increasingly judged on student satisfaction, and that this is based not just on the experience students have at university. The job they get afterwards is also a factor, and teaching entrepreneurship can help, Mr Fannin said.
“Napier has always been very proud of its graduate employability statistics, and we want to continue in that vein,” he added. “With the changing job market, there are increasing numbers of self-employed people, and the skills they require are in this [enterprise] area.”
500 students applied to do extracurricular consultancy work, and 60 were successful
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