The Business Consultancy Project (BCP) is the Faculty of Business and Law’s largest student knowledge exchange module, where students learn in teams as external consultants to local organisations.
When I first started teaching on the BCP module, what really struck me was the range of unfamiliar challenges that the students were faced with. These included dealing with changing project requirements, getting used to the personal way of working of the client, and not being able to access documents readily at hand that might suggest answers to the project, which is starkly different to a prepared case study. I also saw that, as a tutor, we might not see the full range of triumphs, progress, setbacks and adjustments that students experience away from the classroom.
One of the key benefits of learning with external organisations, whether small one-person businesses or much larger ones with multiple stakeholders, is that students build skills in dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity.
I once tutored a team of 5 students working with a client that specialised in guided tours to Iceland. The client asked the team to go to London, and this sparked a whole debate about how the students would manage this: Would they adopt a standard curriculum approach of the time taken being outside their allocation?; Would some, therefore, not want to go?, or; Would they understand the wider benefits when they applied for jobs, where they could talk about what they learned from the trip to London, and how it helped their team progress the project. Discussing this with the then module leader, we could easily have stepped in and told them what to do. Instead, we pushed the problem solving back to the students.
In a more recent project, the client (Diamond Cut Refinishing) used research undertaken by the student team in a pitch deck to investors in the USA, helping the client secure significant funding. Here, the students demonstrated their ability to use their knowledge from their first and second-year studies, apply it to the project, and see how it contributed to a commercial gain.
Another team helped a local community interest company, Seekers Create, to develop a “logic model” to help the client understand how their services benefited people. This gave the client more clarity about how to sustain the business financially.
All these examples are from a module that sits within the curriculum. The ‘outside-the-classroom’ experience (supported by classroom-based seminars and online lectures) is not only a break; it is greatly enjoyable and helps students make links between a wide range of their non-SEKE studies. It also shows students, in a more concrete way, how their degree can help their career ambitions.
Tutors are also treading into the unknown with each project; this reduces the sense of going through the same old case studies and adds a sense of co-discovery. In many ways, the clients are also starting a journey, not knowing exactly where it will end up.
When we all - students, clients and tutors - reflect that this is a multi-faceted learning environment, weaving together client meetings with seminars, making mistakes, and learning from them, becomes a vital part of the students’ broader development at University. Even a small amount of external learning, perhaps just part of a module, can be enough to make a difference. On the CSCB project, we aim to make it easier for academics who have not tried a SEKE module to try it out by using our Toolkit to help them get started.