Increasingly, organisations within the business and higher education sectors are working together in partnership. Correspondingly, more and more jobs are available on a competitive basis to candidates who have a blended academic/ business profile.
As I was nearing the end of my PhD, I wanted to develop my work on children's literacies in a context that linked the blue-skies thinking of educational theory to real-life challenges and business solutions. A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) seemed like an ideal way to fulfil this aspiration.
KTPs are funded by the government and by a company. Traditionally, KTPs aim to build relationships between companies and Universities, by employing recent graduates to work on a project of strategic importance to the company while being supervised by an academic from a University. The idea is simple: the company partner gets access to knowledge and skills they wouldn’t be able to get through a simple consultancy and the graduate (or the so-called KTP Associate) gets the opportunity to directly apply their knowledge to a real business problem.
Although the scheme has been running since 1975, it has been mostly taken up in the engineering and manufacturing sectors; schemes harnessing academic expertise from within the social sciences disciplines and education have not been as widespread. Clearly, this may be in part because there are academic ideas within the field of education which may not have direct commercial value. Also, there are many business projects which are not educational in their focus or indeed necessitate educational expertise. But this pattern of take-up may also be related to a clash of cultured worlds between education and business.
Within education, there is a general belief that ideas should be shared freely - and indeed constructed collaboratively by communities of researchers and practitioners. In business, it is often the case that ideas are commercially sensitive and thus may need to be developed and discussed in more closed or circumscribed circumstances. It may, at times, be hard to reconcile such different working cultures.
I’m currently working as a KTP Associate on a KTP project developed between a literacy charity (Booktrust ) and The Open University’s Faculty of Education and Language Studies. This KTP is providing me with an excellent opportunity to translate academic thinking and research into organisational working practices and strategies. I have learnt about practical project and time management techniques, as well as other business skills such as marketing and searching the net for competitive (rather than complementary) ideas. These new understandings are becoming very powerful when combined with insights from academic research.
So, my advice to fresh postgraduates is to consider a post-doc in-between academia and the business world. A charity-university KTP can be an opportune career start and can offer you, as well as the two organisations, a strong competitive edge in an increasingly competitive funding environment.