The news that Sheffield Hallam has been awarded the title ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ in this year’s Times Higher Education university awards is, of course, brilliant. It’s a mark of the hard work and imagination which has been shown right across the University in our work on progression to employment, engagement with business and the community, and our own innovation and enterprise in the way we work. What’s particularly gratifying about this award is that – rather like our success just two months ago in becoming University of the Year in the Social Mobility Awards – this represents national recognition for something in which we set out to excel. It’s a recognition that the efforts which have been made by teams working together across the University have paid dividends: as with the social mobility award, this is not an accidental by-product of something else, but the result of deliberative action in pursuit of goals which matter.
There has been so much development and innovation in this area over the past few years: the rapid growth of degree apprenticeship provision has been based on very close relationships with public and private sector businesses throughout the region as well as nationally, requiring a real shift in the way we think about our provision. The Hallam i-Lab in Aspect Court has been a great catalyst for student entrepreneurship. The drive across the University to embed work-placements and work-related learning into the curriculum of every undergraduate student has unleashed creativity across the University and extended the opportunities and horizons of thousands of our students. The provision of leadership through a dedicated Pro Vice-Chancellor for Business & Enterprise and a large Business Engagement Skills and Employability team, Associate Deans for business and enterprise and departmental leads has ensured an integrated approach to enterprise and entrepreneurship for all students, teaching, and partnerships. I am delighted that the Times Higher award recognises the achievements which have been made.
In 2019-2020, our approach delivered £18million of funded business support projects including start-up projects such as the University Enterprise Zone Wellbeing Accelerator, growth projects such as the High Skills, High Growth programme, consultancy through the Sheffield Innovation Programme, and talent management through the Sheffield City Region RISE programme. The I-Lab provided over 2,500 student enterprise interactions in 2019-2020. Employer Advisory Boards have been established in all the University’s academic departments to future -proof our curriculum. The University offers the largest free student consultancy service in the UK, a major source of support for local businesses and community groups.
There’s strong evidence of the impact of our work on student outcomes and destinations. Of course, securing employment which is classified as ‘highly skilled’ is not the only outcome of university education: university offers much, much more than that. But we should not be naïve either: moving on to rewarding, graduate-level employment is one driver for higher education participation for many of our students, and we owe it to them to meet their aspirations. As it is, the latest Graduate Outcomes data, based on 2019 graduates, suggests that Hallam’s results for helping students into Highly Skilled employment are amongst the best for post-1992 Universities. 70% of our 2018/19 full-time, home, undergraduate-programme graduates were in highly skilled employment or further study 15 months after graduation, above the sector average of 69%. Amongst post-1992 institutions, Hallam ranked third of seventy-four, behind only Oxford Brookes University and the University of the West of England – both universities located in much stronger regional graduate labour markets. There’s more for us to do. Whilst we appear to have largely eliminated gender differences in employability outcomes, there remains a worrying ethnicity gap and a gap between outcomes for commuter and non-commuter students. But we have shown that we are in a very strong position to look at our challenges and address them, and with the institutional infrastructure and energy to do so.
There is, of course, increasing concern amongst policy makers about graduate outcomes. That’s true internationally as well as nationally. Last week, government announced a new senior appointment at the Office for Students, a new ‘Director of Fair Access’, with a brief to look at outcomes for graduates as well as at participation and access into higher education. This was before the Times Higher award, but the appointment was nonetheless accompanied by a tweet from the Department for Education which said, “We’re calling on more universities to follow @sheffhallamuni and work with local schools and colleges to help support disadvantaged young people to achieve great things, whether they go to university or take another career path”. We know we – like all other universities – have more to do. But the evidence of the award of the title ‘Outstanding Entrepreneurial University’ is powerful: with innovation, imagination and the determination to work together in coherent ways, we can achieve great things for our students and our community.