TV Studio at UWS

The first ever Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) for the University Of The West Of Scotland’s  School Of Creative and Cultural Industries (UWSSCCI) was approved for funding this week. This is an important step forward in the University’s  central strategic goal of having…..

“an applied research base in all of our key subject areas to enhance our wider reputation, contribute to external links, the quality of key programmes and to our credibility as a provider of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes. “1.

Across the United Kingdom, KTPs   have been developed to  fulfill  the  core function of   enhancing  the    engagement of academic institutions  with industry.  All well and good, but  up until now , it has proven particularly problematic for the UWS SCCI  to initiate these in the context of  the  fast changing and converging Creative  Industries, where the importance of  the bottom line is putting innovation and creativity under more and more pressure. Given this, the success of our first short  KTP , however modest in scale,  is particularly welcome in these times of financial challenge and  academic  funding uncertainty.

So what is a  KTP? Fundamentally it  is a three way symbiotic partnership between an Academic,  a  Business Partner   and a recently qualified  Graduate Student or “Associate”. It is a UK wide programme which is funded by the Technology Strategy Board with 17 other funding organisations.

“KTP works with over 100 universities, further education (FE) colleges, and research and technology organisations (RTO) across the UK, which translates into over 450 university departments. That includes all Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) rated departments, covering a wide range of academic disciplines – including engineering, computer sciences, physics and mathematics, management, social sciences and the arts.” 2.

Successful KTPs are a win win situation for Universities, Businesses and the successful Graduate Associate. The KTP   website informs us that since their inception, KTPs   have benefitted businesses  by an overall increase in taxable income of over £100 million pounds. From our point of view, academic institutions also benefit by being funded to  apply their research and innovative practices towards industry, and finally the Associate Graduate student who is employed on the KTP has the opportunity of working in a supportive environment at an early stage of their career to work on a cutting edge, practical task. It looks pretty good on their CV too, and may well lead to more permanent employment should the KTP be deemed successful.

For those of us  in the  School of Creative and Cultural Industries,  it means that we  can share our   creative knowledge, research  and innovative practice  with an outside business   in order to transfer skills  which the partner company needs to help increase efficiency, development and profitability. Through action research, it  can inform, develop and  enhance our teaching methodology and delivery in the light of real links with major industrial players. It allows us to engage in high level strategic interaction with the people who will potentially employ our graduates. It forces us to live in the real world and create teaching and learning which is relevant to the fast changing world of the Creative Industries.

In the light of this, a KTP is the opposite of an academic “exercise”. Rather,  it is a concrete relationship with a commercial  concern. The Commercial partners participation in the process is key. From the KTPs  inception and throughout its term, the Partner will be asking serious questions about its efficacy, relevance and ability to enhance the bottom line of their balance sheets. Let’s be clear on this, KTPs exist to help businesses to make money. If they don’t, then  on an elementary level, they have failed. For all the advantages they provide our graduates and our research, if the partner has lost money , we won’t be seeing them again in a hurry, and this relationship is one which we want to last longer than simply one short KTP. We want to develop business partners for  long term strategic aims , not the short term benefit of three months  work for a graduate.

So who is our business partner in our first   KTP? The BBC? STV? Possibly a leading independent programme maker? None of these. Somewhat surprisingly , they are a a leading Glasgow  legal advice business, Law At Work. You can find out all about them at their website http://www.lawatwork.co.uk/ which explains that …..

“Law At Work is a business support organisation, specialising in helping clients identify, manage, reduce, and eliminate risk to their businesses in the fields of employment law, human resources, and health & safety.  The company achieves this by adopting a prevention rather than cure approach. We ensure that clients’ employment documentation is up to date and fit for purpose, and we update it throughout the relationship. We supplement this with 24/7 advisory services. Additionally we provide tailored training and project management services in our areas of expertise.” 3.

Law at Work are a successful, innovative and expanding company.Their  employees spend their time travelling up and down the country at great expense, time  and ecological deficit  personally delivering workshops to clients  on such matters as Health and Safety at Work, Sex and Racial Discrimination, Employment Tribunals and the like. What they do NOT have are the skills to create a web deliverable interactive service for their clients, and that is where the UWS comes in.

Steve Briggs, Law At Work’s  operations director ,  has been involved with employment law since the late 1970s, and  has worked in advisory, representation and teaching roles in the public, private, and voluntary sectors. He realised that there was a need for his company to produce new interactive training videos on particular aspects of Employment Law. Steve approached me and asked if there was any way that I could assist him in the creation of such a film. The initial idea was that myself, as a scriptwriter, and  Michael Hines, one of our practitioner lecturers, would write and direct a video. The only input that the UWS was to have at this time was for it to be an opportunity to engage my BA(Hons) Performance students in some valuable Work Based Learning as Actors and Production Assistants.

However, I realised that if the project could be re-framed , it could well be adapted into a fully fledged Knowledge Transfer Partnership, where one of our top Graduates could be employed full time to research and create the video, while still providing much needed experience for our students to engage in the process at the performing stage. When Helen Kennedy, our Knowledge Transfer Officer informed me of the recent  creation of “short” KTPs of 10-12 weeks, I realised that this was an ideal opportunity to move the whole project forward.  With Steve’s approval, and with Helen’s energetic support and guidance,  we set the wheels in motion.

The process was not without its challenges. Law at Work has 19 employees , and we had initially thought that as such they would qualify for a Small And Medium Enterprise (SME)  60% grant for all expenses. Unfortunately, when the numbers were crunched and the details examined, it became clear that they were in fact owned by a larger parent company, and hence would lose their SME status and thus have to contribute 60% of the cost.  Steve had initially allocated a specific budget to the process, but recognised the value of the KTP, and agreed to  go back to his board and ask that they provide the  extra tranche of money for the project. A  further meeting with his CEO and our staff ensured that the additional funding was provided, and I am eternally grateful to Steve for his support and encouragement throughout this process. If it has taught me one thing it is that if one has not won the argument of the value of the whole process, there are many ways in the which the reluctant partner can smile, and wave goodbye.The wholehearted  support of the business partner is a  crucial element in the success of any KTP. It is better to spend six months going through the details of what the financial implications are for the Partner, rather than  initiating the grant application  process too soon. The KTP process  is about partnership, and mutual trust, and if you don’t have that you don’t have anything. A wedding with a reluctant bride or groom can only end in tears, however much the minister may wish to bless the union.

So, last week , after in all about a years discussions, we heard that our application had been successful. Now,  with all the funding in place,  myself as leading academic and my  Law at Work as Partners are in a position to   jointly appoint a Graduate Associate who will join Law At Work’s payroll as a Production Manager. They will be  tasked with    researching  and creating  a bespoke interactive training video deliverable by web streaming and DVD. The key word here is “researching”. There are any number of Corporate Video concerns who could create an off the peg video of whatever standard, but what Law at Work would NOT get would be a comprehensive research paper on state of the art interactivity and their relevance to the online delivery of the firm’s commercial product. As such, the research capabilities of the successful candidate is every bit as important as their abilities as a film maker.

My role at the UWS is to act as a tutor, mentor and enabler for the Graduate Associate in his or her time at the company in order to ensure that the work carried out to  the high standard which industry demands.

We have high hopes for this project. It may well serve as a pro forma for future SCCI KTP’s. There must be many commercial companies, SME’s, Health Trusts Community Groups and the like  out there who have a very clear narrative  to share, but are unsure of the best way of disseminating it. Training videos abound, but anyone who has attended a corporate training event will know that many of them seem to have been created by David Brent,  rather than David Lynch. I can see a future where the SCCI could be the first stop shop for a business or company who wish to get their message out to the world, and wish to use our expertise to work out how best to do it.

Our  expectations  are  tempered by realism. The finished artefact will be created on a very small budget, and though we hope for success, the whole enterprise  is entrepreneurial in nature and success is not guaranteed.With this caveat in mind, we shall work hard to  minimise the risk and maximise the chances of commercial success.  It may well be that from an academic research point of view,  the  process itself  is more important than the final end product, but we are committed to making this  as high a quality  a training video as we can  .

For myself as a teacher, it will  provide me with a unique opportunity to develop a creative project from inception, all the way through to its commercial realisation, something which I have been doing as a practitioner for the past thirty years (with lesser or greater degrees of success). The important point is that  from this initial KTP  experience will hopefully flow innovative teaching practice based on the experience gained from  this real world practice, and it may well spawn undergraduate projects and useful business contact for Work Based Learning in the future.

As a practitioner engaged in active research, the papers and publications which will flow from the project ( and indeed from the Associate)  are potentially REF  submissible  and will hopefully provide the quality, impact and vitality needed to   enhance and develop the SCCI’s  research profile.

All in all , then exciting times for the School Of Creative and Cultural Industries. I am at this moment liaising with HR for the engagement of a suitably qualified Graduate Associate. I will  be able to furnish readers with more details of this as the process unfolds.

1. UWS Strategic Plan 2005-9, Page 16 .

2. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships   http://www.ktponline.org.uk/academics . Viewed  1/07/10

3. Law At Work-What we do. http://www.lawatwork.co.uk/ . Viewed 1/10/10