North-East IOEE Academy fully embraces enterprise learning

For several years, New College Durham has been working towards putting enterprise learning firmly at the heart of its educational offer. Steven Bell, Head of School for Sport Business Public Services and IT at the college, talked to us about this process and about the organisation’s developing relationship with the IOEE.

New College Durham, located in the city of Durham, is a Mixed Economy Group College, which means it is one of a group of Further Education colleges that also have ‘a significant, established, strategic and developmental role in the provision of Higher Education.’ Students have access to a real mix of programmes, covering Further and Higher Education courses, full and part-time study and apprenticeships at the college, which Ofsted rates as ‘Outstanding.’ New College Durham also holds Beacon status, which means other institutions come to it to access best practice advice and guidance. Steven Bell is one of a team of staff at the college who have been instrumental in promoting and furthering entrepreneurial learning across subjects and learning levels. He recalls how the process began:

“We initially brought the concept of enterprise innovation into the college via our Higher Education offer a few years ago and it has been developing over time. Back then, we were looking at meeting regional demand and growth, taking LEP priorities into consideration as we did so. Around that time, we were approached by Business Durham, the economic development company for County Durham.”

Initially, the college developed an Innovation and Enterprise unit with Business Durham to sit on its Foundation Degree. Having caught the enterprise bug and already observing its positive impact, last year the college began to work in partnership with the IOEE, adopting our Award in Creativity and Innovation as part of its own offer. In fact, New College Durham piloted this IOEE / TONI&GUY programme with some of its business students. This was a success and the result is a comprehensive, considered and flexible enterprise module that can be used to enhance any learning programme. Now, the IOEE / TONI&GUY programme has been embraced by the college’s hairdressing department, encouraging students to develop their enterprise skills alongside their styling ones. Steven says:

“In fact, the IOEE/TONI&GUY programme fits across the entire college. When, for example, hairdressing students complete that unit they get accreditation from the IOEE as well as getting their hairdressing qualification from us. We’re also currently looking at developing a Level 6 unit to sit in one of our top-up degrees with the Open University, which is something we will potentially work with the IOEE on.”

Steven and his colleagues very much want to promote a rich culture of enterprise and innovation throughout the whole of New College Durham, which, he explains, is why the organisation’s IOEE Academy status is so important in sending the right message to potential learners, local employers and the business community:

“Being an IOEE Academy is partly about the status it affords us as a learning institution. However, it’s also important because enterprise learning is a growth area in our region – demand for this sort of study is increasing. In tandem with this, we’re working with the business arm of Durham County Council, liaising with their business and start-up hub. SME employers here can see that we take enterprise skills very seriously.”

Steven is also keen to point out how relevant and useful enterprise skills can be in unexpected subject areas. For example, the college is currently in the process of developing a Firefighter apprenticeship, working with Durham and Darlington County Fire Service. The IOEE’s Innovation and Creativity programme, Steven explains, has been added to the apprenticeship standard because the skills the fire service was looking for in future recruits corresponded with many of those taught on the award. He says:

“Working with the IOEE has helped us to think about innovation, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship more holistically. We began with this module with the idea that we would simply phase it in but it’s now become a lot more than that.”

One of the initiatives inspired in part by the college’s work with the IOEE, is a plan that will put local enterprise and enterprise learning right at the heart of New College Durham’s offer. A new Business Scale-up Centre is set to open over the next few months. Steven explains what this means:

“Working primarily with local small to medium employers, the Business Scale-up Centre will set our business students real-world business problems. The students will co-ordinate the solving of issues that external businesses bring to us. For example, they might brief graphic design or IT students to undertake projects, coming up with innovative business solutions.”

As well as forging valuable links with the local business community, projects like this encourage students to think laterally and creatively while simultaneously gaining experience of complex, real-world business issues.

Like many in the Further and Higher Education sectors, Steven acknowledges that right now enterprise in education is enjoying something of a renaissance as employers and learners alike demand fresh learning routes that will deliver real world skills.

“This sort of entrepreneurial teaching has been touched upon in the past but it’s never really been so coordinated on a national level, as well as a regional one. It’s certainly being taken more seriously. There used to be the idea that the only people who needed entrepreneurial skills were the one-man bands, someone starting their own business. Now it’s been recognised that those skills are essential for all sorts of people, whether they’re working inside businesses as employees, setting out to start up their own enterprise or looking to develop someone else’s.”