A Spanning Boundaries Agent knows that collaboration is key, both within institutions and across them. Charles Darwin once said, ‘’it is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed’’. The same holds true now in the 21st century. In order to spark innovation and create change in the world, we must place the pieces of the puzzle together, collaboratively.

‘’It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed’’

The Spanning Boundaries Project aims to break down the engagement barriers that exist between universities and their external business stakeholders in order to ensure the effective transfer of knowledge and innovation, whilst contributing to the enhancement of student employability. At the core of the projects focus is people – the Spanning Boundaries consortium sees the solution in the empowerment of university faculty and leadership to master the act of boundary spanning – the ability to easily operate within and across academia, the public sector and the business world.

The Spanning Boundaries Training Programme was created to equip HEI staff with the required skills and knowledge to become these Boundary Spanning Agents. The Learning Framework of the training programme was born directly from the extensive research conducted by the consortium which explored the desired qualities, roles and responsibilities of boundary spanning agents across Europe. The training programme runs over the course of 4-months and includes plenary sessions, workshops, mentoring sessions and a hackathon. The Personal Application Projects (PAPs) are a cornerstone element of the learning framework. These are hands-on real-life challenges, or dream projects that participants bring to the programme and, together with mentors and facilitators, work on solving using their newly gained theoretical knowledge through specialised ’PAP monthly workshops’. At the end of the programme, participants present their PAPs to a jury during the final ‘Gala Pitch Event’

Each participant that is following a PAP is assigned an external mentor to support them through the process of shaping their project. Programme mentors come from diverse backgrounds – technology transfer, university-business-collaboration (UBC) experts, academics and directors of higher education institutions – but what they all have in common is expertise in fostering collaboration between academia and industry. Whilst participants work in a largely independent manner, the monthly mentoring sessions represent a touch point to check in and receive support and guidance.

Friday 11th February marked the final Gala Pitching Event of the second cohort of the training programme. The cohort ran from September 2021 to February 2022 and facilitated the development of over 60 Spanning Boundaries Agents; 22 of which presented their successful PAP projects to a jury of 5 UBC experts. Despite continuous difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, participants dedication meant that they were able to keep up with the demands of the course and stay on track towards accreditation. Empowered by their participation in the programme, these individuals will go on to become agents of change within their various professional contexts and break down the barriers between academia and industry across Europe.

Not only does this date mark the close for the enthusiastic participants of the second cohort, but the finale of the entire pilot phase of the Spanning Boundaries Project, led by University Industry Innovation Network (UIIN). With a total of over 100 participants, from 14 different countries, 30 mentors and more than 40 successfully completed Personal Application Projects (PAPs) across the two cohorts, the Spanning Boundaries project has made huge strides towards its goal of breaking down the engagement barriers between universities and their business stakeholders, by building the capacity of their staff to successfully make these connections.

Many thanks to all the participants for all the dedication they have brought to the programme. We at University Industry Innovation Network (UIIN) and our partners look forward to seeing how PAPs are implemented at participating organisations and how our Spanning Boundaries Agents start to shake up the status quo of university-business collaboration across Europe.

Author: Tasha Day (UIIN)

Junior Project Officer at UIIN