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Earn while you learn: innovative new degree

Published: 14th November 2013

A PIONEERING work-based degree has been launched by Manchester Metropolitan University where students earn while they learn.

Every week, successful students would spend three days working and earning with a company and two days studying at MMU for the BSc (Hons) in iBusiness - the first degree of its kind in the country.

The radical undergraduate course structure will feature traditional degree topics and modules specific to the employer, with students sharing ideas to implement in their own firms.

The aim is to alleviate the financial pressures of a degree while equipping students with the expertise employers are seeking, while companies get work-ready employees.

Innovative

The new degree will be launched in September 2014 with an initial intake of 20 to 30. MMU course leaders are currently signing up companies to the scheme with the firms mainly located in the North West region.

The course is based on a degree currently run by the University, encompassing areas such as: business systems, project management, IT support, business analysis and web development. Students would also spend time making connections between their studies and their experiences in the workplace.

They will earn around £12,000 to £15,000 a year and are still able to obtain a student loan. It is envisaged that tuition fees and living expenses could be covered by the combined wage and a small student loan, drastically reducing the cost of university for undergraduates.

Organiser Dr Robin Johnson, principal lecturer at MMU Business School, said: “We’re really excited about this and feel we are leading the way with an innovative degree programme which aims to help students and companies. We feel there is a lot of potential in this type of degree and in a few years’ time, we could be seeing a lot more degrees like this.

Work-based learning

“It’s in response to the current climate. There is a huge skills gap in IT - it is absolutely massive. If you speak to the companies, you find that nearly all of them have shortage in these areas. There is also the change in fees for student and many may not want to come out with large debts at the end of their degree, while the companies get students who are tailored and trained to their organisation, which they have helped to grow and nurture themselves.

“We’re ideally placed in Manchester with an abundance of fantastic companies prepared to innovate in this way and at MMU we have the skills and knowledge to deliver the course. One of our hopes is that this model can then can then be used in other areas such as: marketing, PR, general business, and accounting and finance. This type of degree could grow in the next few years.”

Explaining the course, he added: “Work-based learning is one of the things that they do. They will be expected to make connections between what they have studied and what they experience in the workplace.

“They will be given a topic they have studied, for example, how customer relationship management (CRM) is undertaken? They’ll then find out how their company uses CRM and talk to other students about what they are all doing within their own companies. They not only learn how their own company is organised but also get to learn about the other organisations, learn about what’s good and what’s best, feeding that back into their own organisation. This approach allows the sharing of ideas and supporting of good practices by contact with other students, and I think that’s really powerful.”

Tailored

Parts of the degree can be tailored even further: if the companies identify skills gaps specific to their organisation then lecturers can create assessments based on these needs. It will also feature external speakers and visitors to further enhance students’ workplace readiness.

Prospective students need to be accepted by the company through traditional job assessments, which will take place in summer 2014, and achieve 240-280 UCAS points although other experience will be considered. They will apply directly to MMU instead of through a UCAS application.

The inaugural intake starts in September 2014, working three days a week at their company and two days a week at MMU during term time. During the academic holidays, the students will be working full time.

The arrangement with their chosen company will run for two years to allow the students to focus on the final year of the degree full-time, although it is thought most students will carry on working with their employer for all three years.

'Deployment-ready graduates'

Neil Ferguson-Lee, from Microsoft Dynamics specialists eBECS, has signed up to the iBusiness degree. The company has a presence in the UK, United States and the Middle East with customers in all those regions.

He said: “We have been shocked by how low the response has been to our graduate opportunities and, similarly, how few are ‘work ready’. This degree programme provides the very desirable mix of deployment-ready graduates who have had a real opportunity to get their hands dirty and experience implementations first-hand while also benefitting from relevant tuition.

“MMU has a strong reputation for technology and business and so it was a natural progression to approach the university and participate in the degree programme. For eBECS, by having an undergraduate get involved in an implementation, they can do a lot of detailed work that more experienced consultants either don’t have time to do or need quickly to support their activities at a higher level. This will provide real, sharp-end, experience of implementations and expose undergraduates to real scenarios, real data and real stresses.

“We’re looking for someone who is bright, enthusiastic and communicative with an understanding of IT but a real desire to understand how stuff is made, business processes are designed and how organisations work with their customers and suppliers.”