Everyone’s a winner in this digital space

Director of knowledge exchange hub says that the arts and humanities can play a key role in bringing creative companies and academics together

August 6, 2015
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Together is better: connecting scholars with industry stimulates innovation

“There’s a big drive for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. People talk about STEM and productivity...and the other research councils will always be promoting the undeniable technical advantages that can come through those subjects,” Rachel Cooper, director and principal investigator of The Creative Exchange, told Times Higher Education.

“What we aimed to do was really shake up the way arts and humanities academics work with industry.”

CX is one of four knowledge exchange hubs, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, to connect arts and humanities researchers with creative and cultural organisations to generate knowledge exchange opportunities, promote entrepreneurial talent and stimulate innovation, and contribute to the UK’s creative economy.

A collaboration between Lancaster and Newcastle universities and the Royal College of Art, CX is nearing the end of its four-year funding and Professor Cooper, professor of design management at Lancaster, hopes that the work they have achieved – which includes generating 50 collaborative projects – can be a blueprint for future business-university collaborations in the creative sector.

“Arts and humanities is sometimes thought as being a scholarly activity [but] there’s a lot of really interesting work going on we thought could be brought out, not just to bigger cultural organisations but also to small, digital and creative companies,” Professor Cooper said. “Our aim was to bring pioneering companies, large or small, [together] with the best academic thinkers to explore…the digital public space.”

Along with academics working with businesses, the AHRC funded 21 PhD students to study for their doctorate in a manner Professor Cooper describes as out of the ordinary.

“Usually PhDs come in, they have an idea and work with a professor on a theme, do their literature review etc,” she said. “This time the PhDs came in October, we ran the workshops in November, December and January, and they had to work on projects immediately. They were doing real-world research: hybrid activity that married the traditional theory-driven thesis alongside practice-based approaches.”

Some of these students have subsequently secured jobs via the projects they worked on. One student involved in an open planning project in Liverpool secured consultancy work with Camden Borough Council. “The professor of architecture [involved] is obviously writing papers about the whole thing, so there’s a winner in everything,” Professor Cooper added.

She stressed that business-university relationships take time to blossom, especially as many of the businesses were minnows with small workforces. To ease time-consuming tasks such as funding proposals from organisations such as Innovate UK, CX was able to apportion a pot of money to “release them to do research and development on projects”, highlighting the multifaceted nature of the hub.

Although the current sector trend is to push STEM, the ability of the arts and humanities to “explore a range of issues relating to the human condition” mean that these hubs are pivotal to strengthening the digital economy.

“Even though we no longer have the thread of funding together, we all will be working collaboratively,” said Professor Cooper. “We will have a CX stream through our PhD training, the way we work with academics and probably the way we bid for funding elsewhere.”



Robert Gordon University has appointed Hans Steuten as head of commercialisation support, responsible for the university’s commercialisation strategy. Mr Steuten joins RGU from the James Hutton Institute subsidiary, Macaulay Scientific Consulting, an environmental consultancy centre.

Howard Kingston has joined the advisory board of Durham University Business School. Mr Kingston, a Durham Business School graduate, is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Adludio, a digital advertising company.

The University of Glasgow has announced two new appointments to its creative writing team. Louise Welsh, a graduate of Glasgow and one of Scotland’s most distinguished writers, has been made professor of creative writing. Colin Herd, a University of Edinburgh graduate, published author and director at the Sutton Gallery in Edinburgh, has been handed a lectureship in creative writing with specific reference to poetry.

Hywel Francis, former Member of Parliament for Aberavon, has returned to Swansea University in a strategic adviser role. Professor Francis was previously professor of continuing education at Swansea prior to his election to parliament in 2001.

Bournemouth University has appointed Stephen Tee as executive dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences. Professor Tee joins from King’s College London where he is currently professor of nurse education and dean for education in the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery.


Print headline: Everyone can be a winner in this digital dimension

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