We’re working with over 120 colleagues across 33 academic departments to promote a culture of innovation for all students at Warwick. If you’re a member of staff and would like to get involved in developing new opportunities, view our internal report on Student Innovation at Warwick and join the Warwick Innovation Network via the link on that page.
Innovation is the first of four strategic priorities in Warwick’s 2030 Strategy:
Innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial energy have always been pivotal in helping Warwick to stand out from the crowd. If we are to achieve our ambitions for research and education in a fast-changing world, innovation must be a given, not an option… We will work to remove barriers to innovative and creative activity and to foster an openly innovative culture… We will support students and staff who have enterprising ideas which they want to test and implement. (Warwick in 2030 Strategy)
At Warwick Enterprise, our goal is to foster a culture of innovation for all, where every single student has the opportunity to be creative and enterprising in a way that suits their needs and interests.
In 2020, we carried out in-depth discussions with staff across 33 academic departments, to learn more about how students engage with innovation, and to explore possibilities for developing this provision in the future.
We were overwhelmed by the generosity of our colleagues who engaged with this project, and by the extent and quality of the innovative work being done by staff and students in all disciplines. Our Student Innovation at Warwick online resource (visible only to Warwick staff) provides detailed information about student-facing provision in all 33 departments, with approval from the Head of Department in each case.
What is innovation?
We define ‘innovation’ not just in terms of the invention of new ideas, products, and services, but also in relation to the mindset and skillset required to be innovative. Students engage with innovation not just by producing original research or creating new businesses and social enterprises, but by learning key skills related to enterprise, entrepreneurship, and creativity.
Depending on context, students can engage with innovation through the following activities.
Our students are educated by world-leading scholars, and are trained to be researchers themselves. Lecturers model disciplinary excellence and innovation, as well as engaging students in more participatory forms of research-led teaching. They thereby encourage students to be independent and original in their approach to their studies.
Interdisciplinarity (alongside cross-, multi- and trans-disciplinarity) is integral to the process of innovation. It involves taking ideas from one context and applying them to another in order to learn (or do) something new. Students at Warwick have many opportunities to produce interventionist research by combining multiple perspectives.
Staff across all departments are disrupting conventional pedagogies and engaging students in new ways of learning. In many cases, students themselves are empowered to take a leading role in enacting changes to the way they learn.
There is vast scope for Warwick students to construct their own journey through their degrees, and to be creative and generative both within that journey and beyond it. Such opportunities are especially visible when students undertake curricular or extra-curricular projects of their own devising.
No one innovates alone: by working in teams, students can leverage their own and each other’s strengths to solve real-world problems. Varied assessment schemes that include group presentations and peer evaluation help students to escape from their comfort zones and recognise the power of collaboration.
Placements, internships, and work simulations are immensely popular, but they do more than boost employability: they offer students the chance to engage directly with real-life innovation, and to connect this with their studies. They can also be opportunities for students to experience ‘intrapreneurship’: the practice of innovation within an organisation.
Warwick students are encouraged to see problems as opportunities, and themselves as potential change-makers in a wide range of fields and industries. They often arrive at university with an awareness of social or sustainability problems and a desire to do something about them, or they develop this awareness and desire as a direct consequence of their studies.
On many courses, students can develop a sophisticated understanding of economic realities by looking critically at complex situations from multiple angles, and considering the less obvious ramifications of high-level policies. This nuanced commercial awareness is a key enterprise skill, enabling students to implement their innovative ideas in real-world contexts.
There are many opportunities for students to learn about qualitative and quantitative data collection, analysis, and presentation, whether they do so through the lens of a single discipline or a combination of several. Whatever the context, these skills are crucial for anyone looking to develop a new product, service, or social enterprise: they foster the ‘Design Thinking’ mentality of understanding and empathising with one’s audience or user-base, and developing innovations on the basis of that understanding.
This is perhaps the broadest category of enterprise skill, and it is nurtured in some form in all academic departments. Innovators need to be able to communicate ideas and persuade others, and in particular they need to appeal to a wide range of audiences. Many departments at Warwick train students in conveying technical principles to non-specialists. Enabling students to make use of their discipline-specific knowledge in the world outside the classroom also enables them to see how that knowledge can be mobilised to change people’s beliefs and behaviours.
By aligning our implementation of the Innovation Strategy with the practice of academic departments, and with the university’s Education and Employability Strategies, we will ensure that students have more opportunities to be innovative, and are more aware of these opportunities, than ever before.
This will involve helping academic staff to underline or develop existing provision, creating more extra-curricular programmes run by central services, and promoting optional innovation-related modules in other departments.
It will also involve building a new communication network amongst Warwick staff, enabling more cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration. In 2020/21, we will showcase examples of innovative practice via our social media channels and a programme of online webinars, thereby increasing the visibility of our students’ and colleagues’ achievements.
This is a crucial time to foster innovation and agile thinking in Higher Education, and to cultivate new relationships within Warwick and beyond.
To join the Warwick Innovation Network, please view our internal report on Student Innovation at Warwick and join the Teams network via the link on that page. Alternatively, please email Lewis dot Beer at warwick dot ac dot uk.
If you are an external individual or organisation interested in partnering with us, please contact Rachel Davis (Director of Warwick Enterprise) directly at R dot M dot Davis at warwick dot ac dot uk.