Business schools: much more than MBAs

Executive Education and other CPD for businesses

Scotland’s business schools offer a range of business-focused short courses known as executive education. This short training can offer a focus on one particular aspect, such as leadership or export strategies, or a challenge in the business environment.

Executive education can be delivered in as little as a day and is usually aimed at those already working or leading their own business. Sometimes the education is offered free of charge as part of the university’s relationship with companies in their region. Executive education can, and often is, customized to meet the needs of different companies.

Heriot-Watt runs a programme of courses with high take-up amongst the SME community. Previous clients include companies working in the insurance, food and drink, engineering and recruitment sectors. Popular courses include Lean Six Sigma (LSS), a programme focused on collaboration and the elimination of waste, managing business performance, leading with insight, inventory planning and efficient warehouse design. The University can also offer intensive interpreting to companies who operate globally.

LEMAC manufacture electrical motors and are based in East Lothian and needed to solve a noise problem affecting their product. The company said LSS helped to do so and delivered benefits that were ‘materially favourable to the company’s profitability, as well as majorly beneficial to our operational performance’.

“Professor Anthony brought the Lean Six Sigma course alive with his in-depth industry experience and passion for the subject.” – Rachel Heaps, Tarmac Contracting (Midlothian).

Find out more information here.

Edinburgh Napier University delivers short courses and continuing professional development to around 150 individuals and companies a year as part of its programme of executive education. It delivers nearly the same volume again in longer executive education programmes lasting more than eight months.

Napier delivers a sector-specific development programme called the Destination Leaders Programme for senior professionals already working in tourism. 60 people, from all across Scotland, have taken the course in the three years it has run since 2013. The course includes contributions from a range of inspirational world renowned speakers and academics, as well as experts from the Scottish tourism sector. It provides the opportunity to strengthen industry networks, learn from tourism colleagues and develop as a destination leader. The course has been shortlisted for the “outstanding employer engagement initiative award” in the UK wide Times Higher Education leadership and Management Awards 2017. Previous alumni are full of praise for the benefits of the course:

The programme gave me what I like to call ‘destination thinking’ which I consider really important… As a partnership manager, actually realising some of the partnerships which hadn’t been so obvious prior to starting the course particularly at an international level, was incredibly useful.” – Nancy Riach, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

For more information click here.

The University of Aberdeen has redesigned its MBA and Masters programmes to allow easier access for business employees including delivering programmes in concise blocks of time and online, and offering programmes on a course by course business. The MBA seminars have recently been opened up with the most popular including entrepreneurial leadership and business model innovation.

“An extremely positive session, with a good mix of theory and practical elements to keep us engaged. The facilitators were inspiring and it was great to network with like-minded delegates’” – ANM Group

“Very Inspiring, clear and positive facilitators!” – MARINE Scotland

For more information click here.

Education with a focus on scale and export

Exporting makes firms more productive and CBI Scotland have identified encouraging more firms to export as a priority. The Scottish Government Economic Strategy also emphasises the importance of exporting and Scottish business schools are providing the support to help Scottish businesses to do so.

The University of Strathclyde runs the Growth Advantage Programme for existing SMEs with a minimum of £1 million in turnover and ambitions to grow significantly. The business accelerator programme is pitched at founders, MDs and Chief Executives and those with ownership interest. It brings together executive education, peer learning and the support from Santander Commercial. Launched in 2015, with 20 senior business figures on each programme, it meets a need for scale-up education in Scotland. Academics and established entrepreneurs deliver the education with the 10-month programme delivered over 5 intensive sessions. Practical support, and access to resources including that of Santander’s global networks, is a key part of the programme. The course is subsidized by Santander.

40 companies have now completed the Growth Advantage Programme.  To date, companies have averaged almost £2 million in sales with 20 people at the start. By the end of the programme, total employment was 598, up 19% for cohort 2 and 434, up 10% for cohort 1. Total turnover was £41.9 million (up 22%) for cohort 2 and £47.3m (up 13%) for cohort 1. Projected total employment in three years from the end of the programme was 975 (up 63%) for cohort 2; 876 (up 102%) for cohort 1; and projected total turnover in three years was £99.6m (up 138%) for cohort 2 from the end of the programme and £100.6m (up 113%) for cohort 1. This represents an average annualised growth in sales of 33.5% (28.5%) and employment of 17.7% (26.5%) – both cohorts exceeding the OECD growth threshold for a high growth firm of 20% annualised growth in sales or turnover.

“A key differentiator of this programme is sustainability. By delivering the inputs over a ten-month period, the Hunter Centre has facilitated ‘bite-sized’ learning and an element of peer support/pressure that ensures that the cohort is able to apply the learning in their businesses immediately and feedback on progress to the group at the next session. Where problems are encountered, they are shared and worked through as a group.” – Alistair Cameron, Scotmas, Kelso.

For companies looking for support on internationalization and export, University of Edinburgh can offer a bespoke research by students on the Masters-level programme on international business and emerging markets. The project, entitled Bringing Scotland to the World, is supported by Santander as part of its Breakthrough programme focused on international trade. The postgraduate students delivers the client-focused research and recommendations. Santander offers support from their Desk Director for China, India or Latin America and the Santander Trade portal to both client and postgraduates. Seven carefully selected Scottish SMEs took this opportunity last year.

International entrepreneurship is being addressed by Abertay University through a pioneering initiative designated as ‘Global Games Competition’ aiming to involve students in designing a board game and creating a marketing strategy to enter a foreign market, whilst also encouraging them to generate real sales. This project is being pioneered in partnership with San Diego State University (USA) and Jaume I University (Spain). The results of these projects aim to feed into Abertay’s research on student empowerment through the adoption of innovative and engaging practices in teaching and learning.

Online learning for those with no time during the 9-5

Many business owners do not have time to commit to significant training and time away from the office so business schools are making their expertise available online to help companies.

The University of the Highlands and Islands launched a new leadership and entrepreneurial programme in 2015 for small businesses across the region called Catalyst. Heavily over-subscribed in its first year the programme addresses the challenges of poor accessibility and infrastructure in the Highlands which pose an additional hurdle to small businesses looking for CPD. One version of the course was delivered completely online to 20 participants. Companies working in arts and culture, food and drink, IT and digital were particularly represented on both the online and face to face programmes. UHI’s programme was the only course for business leaders in Scotland to receive support from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. Evaluation showed that participants reported significant improvements in their ability to seek out new opportunities and to seek new market opportunities.

I have loved it. It’s been both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. The delivery team were fantastic – so encouraging and supportive. The materials and tools have been invaluable. I have shifted my mindset and have no doubt that my business will grow as a result.”

The Open University’s Future Learn makes business programmes from across the world accessible – and freely available – to Scottish SMEs. Business and Management is a distinct category within the platform and courses are grouped according to those you can start right now or those that run to a specific schedule. Courses run by the Open University can be found on the platform and include subjects such as book-keeping, customer engagement and financial planning. Other business modules are provided by the universities across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. The courses are entirely flexible to fit with an individual’s workload and often involve as little as three or four hours a week. Many of the courses are certified.

“For me, learning on FutureLearn has become an intuitive process – now when I struggle with something at work, I go to FutureLearn.” – Jo, 30, working as a creative.

“Because of all the work that I’m doing right now I feel like I want to be on top of my game. Technology just screeches on at 100 miles an hour and if you don’t keep on top of it, the information that you’re giving out could be really outdated.” – Judie, who completed the Cyber Security course

Student consultancy on real-world business challenges

Scottish businesses can tap into the knowledge of final-year business students to get focused solutions to their challenges. This is a great resource available to the business community. The benefit works both ways as the students get real-world experience and contacts from the experience. As well as running their own programmes for this, Business Schools can tap into the established model of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships which place a graduate in the business (working alongside an academic) to work on a defined and time-limited project.

The University of Edinburgh Enterprise Consulting Project pairs-up final year undergraduate students with start-up companies, in business for at least a year, to help them address challenges related to growth. Companies at that stage in their life cycle often feel they don’t have the resource to invest in consultancy at market rates. A good alternative is to draw on a dedicated team of students, with close to four-years of business education under their belts.

Find out more here.

“The work the students did will be extremely useful going forward. We now have ideas for online distribution channels and a much clearer idea of the competitor matrix and where we sit. I certainly would recommend it. To be involved with such a high calibre institution and students that have been through a business course has got to be good for your business.” – Co-Founder & Director, Supernature Oils.

As part of their course, final year entrepreneurship students at the University of Strathclyde spend one day a week for three months with local growth companies, working closely with the owner on a variety of projects from marketing campaigns to new product development.

Abertay University hold an annual Innovation for Global Growth event which is a chance to put student minds to work on real-world business challenges with a fast-turnaround. Run every year, student groups have three days to present solutions to a number of challenges submitted by business in advance. Companies taking part have included Royal Bank of Scotland, BT, Scottish Seafood as well as the Scottish Blood Tranfusion Service. For students, it’s a chance to work collaboratively, to solve complex problems and to build confidence that senior managers will value their input. Students bring their creativity, their understanding of the consultancy process and systems thinking to present back to the client. A consultancy report is developed over six weeks with quality control assured by a university tutor. Participating companies report being impressed by the quality of work returned.

Working to a brief provided by BT, Abertay students came up with several ideas to transform the traditional contact centre environment. They were told to rip up the rule book and asked to redefine the role of the call centre advisor:

“We felt we had a great talent pool in Dundee to draw on… with Abertay’s students providing some exciting new ideas which now move from concept to reality.” – Dundee-based Alison MacKenzie, General Manager for BT Customer Service.

University of Glasgow run the Small Business Consultancy Project where students carry out a practical consultancy project for and within a small business in the Greater Glasgow area.

Students developed an internationalisation and market entry plan for a new product for Freedom One (an equality and inclusiveness consultancy firm, and producer of next generation power wheelchairs). Entrepreneur and founder of Freedom One, Alex Papanikolaou, said:

“I was really impressed with what they managed to dig up on what was not an easy topic and form it into a well thought out strategy and plan. It was clear that the group really put effort into the detail and spent time thinking of how best to execute a foreign market entry plan, their ideas were really valuable and we will be using them!

“Thanks again for working with us, it was really worthwhile from our end and hope they enjoyed it too. I’d love to do it again!”

Glasgow students worked on a project with SmartSTEMs to identify how the existing go-to market model for SmartSTEMs in Scotland could be improved. Stuart Macdonald, founder and CEO SmartSTEMs said:

“SmartSTEMs had a fantastic experience of engaging Glasgow University Business School     to improve our go to market model.  As a Scottish charity we were unsure what we might expect kicking off the project.  We were apprehensive about the level of work we would get in return for the time we would expend and the passion we would bring to the project.  But it concerns were short lived.  Their supervisor briefed them well and they worked diligently and delivered on time.

The small team at SmartSTEMs couldn’t be happier and personally I can only say the calibre of the reporting and project delivery was extremely high. The team have added considerably to our value proposition and delivered numerous additional elements over and above our brief.  Our sincere thanks to Jillian Gordon and the students involved for a job very well done.”

Regional partnerships for business growth

More productive regions often have a greater proportion of firms offering management training and Scottish business schools are working with local councils to provide the leadership training needed for locally-based SMEs to unlock regional productivity.

In 2017 Stirling Management School worked with STEP Scotland to deliver a three-month leadership development programme (LDP) for 15 SMEs based in the Stirling council region. LDP consisted of team and individual coaching sessions and learning from real-life experiences to address issues including individual resilience, innovation, strategy and responsible leadership.

“It is hard not to speak too highly of the Leadership Development course. I felt that a considerable effort had been made by all parties involved in delivering the course to produce something that challenged participants, was though provoking and relevant, yet contained within a concise program schedule such that it did not place too much of a time burden on those attending, many of whom would find it difficult to be away from their roles/businesses” – Craig Mcfarlane, Stirling Cycle.  

The programme is funded by Business Gateway and European Regional Development Fund.

Edinburgh Napier University has developed an innovative growth accelerator programme in partnership with Fife Economy Partnership. The programme is an Entrepreneurial Leadership Programme for participants from SMEs in Fife. The team includes academic experts and practitioners and participants completing the course are awarded an Executive Certificate in Entrepreneurial Leadership.

“I have found this programme to be highly practical, giving useful insights into how I can develop as a leader and propose actions for the growth of my businesses, both in the UK and overseas.” – Sam Fernando, Keela International Ltd.

Involvement in business-focused networks

Business-to-business and peer networking can be hugely valuable to companies to help share experience and advice. Universities can have an important role as a central focus for such networks to bring together businesses and academic experts.

Niched, sector specific examples of business engagement include support for food and drink businesses and the creation of Common Interest Groups (CIGs) by Queen Margaret University Edinburgh. A recent independent evaluation praised the CIGs with businesses being ‘enthusiastic about the benefits and opportunities it created’. QMU worked with their partners to create the Sea Buckthorn CIG of nine companies to better understand the nutritional properties of sea buckthorn to develop new products. Three of those companies have since launched new products, including eteaket which launched a new tea in September 2016:

“On the quest for a distinctive new ingredient for a tea blend, we joined the QMU Sea Buckthorn Common Interest group, which is sparking an interest in this native plant. We felt that Sea Buckthorn is greatly overlooked in terms of its health benefits, nutritional properties and unique flavour. Working alongside the QMU and the group, we hope that the distinctive Scottish Sea Buckthorn can flourish here in Scotland” – Erica Moore

Queen Margaret University works with family owned and managed firms, their advisers and the Family Business Associations in Scotland to support family businesses via research and knowledge exchange.  One part of this work focuses on Scottish Family Business Week, which includes an annual conference, evening reception and visits to individual family businesses. Now in its third year, this series of events engages around 150 businesses annually and acts as an active bridge between professional communities and current research.

“As the founder of Family Business United Scotland we are delighted with the support we receive from, and the collaborative endeavours in the field of family business from Professor Claire Seaman and the team at Queen Margaret University. With over 103,000 jobs and more than £16.6 billion turnover generated by the top 100 family firms in Scotland alone, the sector is thriving and making a massive impact on the Scottish economy through revenue generation, employment and involvement in the community.  As pioneers in the family business space in Scotland, QMU are offering support to the family business community and helping support the needs of these businesses for generations to come.” – Paul Andrews, Family Business United Scotland

“The expertise and learning at QMU helped me develop my thinking and the development of our family business for the next generation” – Barrie Henderson, Hendersons of Edinburgh.

The University of Strathclyde acts as host to two key organisations in Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Entrepreneurial Scotland and Scottish EDGE.  It also co-delivers Entrepreneurial Scotland’s Saltire Fellowship with Babson College and delivers bespoke sales training for winners of funding from Scottish EDGE.

Further reading

Business schools have another important role in encouraging and supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs. The business school commonly links up with other schools across the university to ensure it’s not just business students who think about starting their own enterprise.

We don’t go into detail on student entrepreneurship here as you’ll find lots on that elsewhere on our site. Check out Making it Happen if you are interested in the growing culture of student and staff entrepreneurship in our universities

Key Facts:

  1. In 2014-15, 8.864 Scottish-domiciled students entered university in Scotland with a HN qualification. 4,007 (47.8%) received full credit for their HN, and 4,869 (58.1%) received full or partial credit.
  2. The number of students articulating from college with full credit increased by over 1,000 (36.7%) between 2009/10 and 2014/15 – from 2,931 to 4,007.
  3. 21.4% of students who articualte with full credit are from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland (as measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation).
  4. Over a third of articulating students choose to study a degree in a different subject area from their HN qualification. In 2014/15, half of those who did not receive full credit were moving into a different subject area.