Impacting the community through student projects

Amizan Omar details the Bradford Business Challenge projects undertaken by final-year undergraduate students as part of the University of Bradford School of Management’s commitment to serve and make an impact on the largest meaning of ‘community’

Harnessing diversity and inclusivity, and putting ethics, sustainability and responsible management at the heart of its actions, the University of Bradford School of Management is committed to making an impact on and serving the largest meaning of ‘community’ – i.e., the diverse range of people everywhere in the world.

Community engagement

This commitment is so important to the School because 85% of its students come from the most socio-economically diverse areas by postcode, around 70% are from BME backgrounds, and because of the wider University of Bradford’s commitment to social mobility. As such, the School engages actively with communities, non-traditional students, and small-scale regional enterprises. This is manifest in the School’s mission and vision statements, which are then articulated in its broader set of actions, particularly through the academic offerings.

The University of Bradford School of Management is the first in England to receive joint accreditation from AMBA & BGA and, in the spirit of the BGA Charter, the School has a string focus on bringing business and students together in learning and teaching activities inside and outside the classroom.  

The School runs various initiatives, including its Career Booster programme – a series of seminars and workshops offered two weeks each academic year to equip students with out-of-classroom transferable skills and commercial awareness. Other initiatives include its Knowledge Transfer Networks – a series of monthly lectures showcasing the experience and expertise of particular business owners to other businesses, as well as students, staff and alumni, and which is followed by an opportunity for all attendees to network.

The Bradford Business Challenge

Another initiative is the increasingly prevalent Bradford Business Challenge theme for business and management undergraduates’ final-year project, where students work with business to solve a real business challenge that has been identified.

The final-year project module for these students requires a 7,500 words dissertation, which can be based on one of four themes Each of the themes – National Industrial Challenge; Global Challenge; Entrepreneurship and Innovation Challenge; and Bradford Business Challenge – involves engaging with a challenge in the real business world. However, the Bradford Business Challenge is alone in being an applied research project that requires students to work on a project sponsored by a business or organisation.

Students opting for this theme partner with the sponsor to find a solution to a specific business problem with guidance from an academic. Sponsors are usually businesses as well as public and third sector organisations from the Yorkshire region, England. Most of the projects are sourced from the University of Bradford School of Management’s longstanding Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) which consists of around 3,000 businesses in Bradford and Yorkshire region.

The Bradford Business Challenge is one way in which the School supports its the KTN members, on top of its Community Career Booster Programme (which offers probono training on specific skills, such as SAGE 50) and business advice. The idea is to promote seamless knowledge transfer between the School and businesses and thus, enable meaningful impact in the community.

Since its launch in the 2018/19 academic year, the Bradford Business Challenge has delivered a degree of impact to more than 30 sponsors and has helped participating students to develop a range of transferrable skills and improve their employability. An internal study shows that more than 50% of these students have successfully secured graduate-level jobs within six months of the study completion, and a further 30% said that the research skills acquired have supported them in their postgraduate study.

Community impact examples

Project sponsors also acknowledge that the solutions provided by students have significantly benefited them. A local marketing and advertising company that sponsored a project in the 2018/19 academic year, for example, reported an improvement in its profitability. Its project focused on investigating marketing challenges faced by the Financial Advisory Service and led to the development of a marketing strategy for financial advisers to market their services. This strategy is now used by the marketing company to gain more clients in the financial industry. Another case was a project with a luxury slow-fashion startup that is today an award-winning SME on market research, and this has contributed to the launch of its products.

Company sponsors span various organisation types and sizes, including public and third sector organisations. Working with the local council, one final-year project student has worked on concept proofing for ‘Citizen Coin Bradford’ – an initiative designed to encourage volunteering in community projects and support for local retailers. Volunteers to the scheme are rewarded with ‘digital coins’ for which they are entitled to discounts from local retailers.

In another recent example, a student worked with an established charity in the City of Bradford to overcome a long-existing HR management issue in the organisation. This has significantly contributed to the sustainability of the organisation, which provides a range of free therapeutic counselling services to vulnerable young people, families, individuals, and couples living in the Bradford region.

Widening reach and winning recognition

The online platform brought in by the School amid lockdown measures and travel restrictions has proven to be a silver lining for fostering broader engagement with the international business community. Through a network of the School’s MBA alumni, the School secured a project sponsored by a Dubai-based food truck and modular/mobile unit manufacturing company. The success of this project – carried out by a student with support from an academic who is a marketing expert – has led to the School opening up the Bradford Business Challenge to international sponsors. A further cross-borders initiative aimed at generating a greater impact in the community at large is now also underway to enhance the value delivered to students and the stakeholders.

In February 2021, the School was granted Small Business Charter status. The award recognises the School’s enduring commitment to working with businesses and entrepreneurs in the city, region and more widely, and its support for them through various initiatives, including the Bradford Business Challenge. Two months following this, the School was awarded ‘Business School of the Year 2020’ by the Educate North Awards – an awards event that celebrates, recognises and shares best practice and excellence in the education sector in the North of the UK.  

Moving forward, the School has identified several key objectives for the future. They include an urgent need for Bradford to move away from low-skills and low-economic positions towards raising academic aspirations and achievements in the local area. There is also a need to tackle the demographic decline in the number of 18-year-olds nationally and addressing the changing needs of employers who are expecting flexibility, resilience, commercial nous, and enhanced skills in relation to the digitisation of work, big data and AI.

Dr Amizan Omar is the Director of Accreditations for the Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences, University of Bradford, UK. She is also an Associate Professor at the School of Management, where she leads the undergraduate final-year project module. Omar is a sustainability advocator and the Faculty Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champion.

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