University of Essex - leading the way on Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

University of Essex. Picture: Paul Tait

University of Essex. Picture: Paul Tait - Credit: Archant

There are constant calls for the education sector to work more closely with the business world, and one provider walking the walk is the University of Essex.

Robert Walker, KTP Manager, University of Essex

Robert Walker, KTP Manager, University of Essex - Credit: Archant

The Colchester-based institution has been identified by the government’s Innovation agency, Innovate UK, as the leading university in the East of England and London for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) - an arrangement where businesses work with the university on a project and share expertise.

Currently, the university has 25 approved KTPs with businesses based mostly in Essex and Suffolk, and from sectors as diverse as manufacturing, insurance and health care. Much of the university’s research expertise is in data science, robotics, artificial intelligence and related specialisms, so the majority of these projects involve the development of commercial applications of these technologies.

According to Robert Walker, KTP manager at Essex, the reason why there is good support for KTPs at the university is because there is a high level of “buy-in from the heads of school, deans and senior staff on the enterprise side to interact with business”.

An element of innovation

Typically, KTPs are funded by Innovate UK - up to 67% of the project cost for SMES and 50% for large businesses - and administered by the university. The partnerships can run for between 12 months and three years.

“There needs to be a business case and an element of innovation within the project,” explained Walker.

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“Academics are brought into the project and for each partnership the university will recruit an associate with relevant expertise - maybe at MSc or PHD level - who will be employed by the university but placed full-time, working in the company and liaising with the academic team who are there as a point of expertise.”

“Innovate UK want to fund and embed a capability into a business, and exploit that technology - and that works best if the knowledge transfer is based in the business.”

Nick Sanderson, software development director from MSX and Gavin Dobson, group head of marketing an

Nick Sanderson, software development director from MSX and Gavin Dobson, group head of marketing and e-commerce from Hood Group - Credit: Archant

Walker says there are multiple measures of success for KTPs.

“Innovate UK would view success as company growth and additional revenue for the business because, ultimately, their aim is to fund projects that add to the economy,” he said.

For the university, academics get access to real-world projects which provide material for research papers and case studies, which all feed back into their teaching of students.

And around 70% of associates, who have been working on a KTP secure a job with the company after it comes to an end.

“In that way the KTP acts a test-run for the graduates and employers,” added Walker.

Case study: The appliance of data science

Southend-on-Sea-based insurance services business Hood Group recently kicked off a KTP with the University of Essex to help it better understand the behaviour of and decisions made by customers buying insurance products online.

“We want to develop a predictive model that can work out the price points that customers with certain profiles will buy insurance,” explained, Gavin Dobson, head of marketing and E-commerce at the group.

“As an industry we sit on a huge amount of data and we want to use that to personalise the insurance purchasing journey for people online.

“We had a skills gap in the analysis of that data and the ability to turn it into something we could do something with. Through the KTP we are now working with a data scientist who is helping us with the different tools and techniques to looks at the data.”

Colchester-based MSX is an international company that provides business processing outsourcing for the automobile industry

The company is in the early days of a KTP that aims to analyse the data of automobile companies to see where improvements and efficencies to their processes can be made.

Software development director Nick Sanderson explained: “Specifically, we are analysing the data relating to car dealership warranty programmes, and seeking to understand if we make certain changes and automate certain processes what should we be doing to improve warranty costs without reducing customer satisfaction.

He added: “Over the last couple of years we’ve had software development apprentices with the university and we’ve been pleased with them, so in this case we have reached out to the university to get access to the academic excellence here and to get our own partner.”