collaboration between universities & businesses
June 22, 2018

Data Science collaboration between universities & businesses = Scotland

By Paul Laughlin

As a break from our focus on books, I want to return to the topic of Data Science collaboration between universities & businesses. When it works well, it can make such a difference to both students’ development & business talent pipelines.

In many ways the topics are not disconnected. Books, like collaboration between universities & businesses, are conduits to learning & mutual understanding. To be strategic, analytics leaders need to think about long-term people development plans, not just annual PDPs.

The prompt (to me sharing this plea), was the latest press release from MBN Solutions. I share it in full below (with my comments), as it shows what is being achieved in Scotland. We’ve mentioned before the positive progress being achieved by Data Lab, MBN and others.

This press release, includes quotes from Scottish Government, Sainsbury’s Bank, a student & The Data Lab. It makes me wonder how the same progress can be achieved in the rest of the UK (especially Wales)?

If you are looking to improve your future pipeline of relevant Data Science/Analytics graduates – this should give you pointers…

Scotland’s graduates are now at the heart of a growing Data Science sector

Hot on the heels, of recent ‘good news’ stories, regarding Scotland cementing its place as a world-leader in the realm of Data Science. News of the conclusion of another, country-wide initiative, to bolster Scotland’s data capabilities. Becoming a country that delivers first-class employment opportunities, to skilled data professionals.

Now in its second year, the #MBNSkills initiative is run by Glasgow based consultancy MBN Solutions. It has successfully delivered The Data Lab’s keynote MSc. Placement Programme, for 2018.

They worked with a large variety of organisations, across Scotland. Ensuring the nation’s emerging Data Talent, have the best possible start to their careers.  Rob Huggins (of MBN) and his team, spent the early part of 2018 on the road. From Aberdeen in the north, to Ayrshire in the south, Rob’s consistent message focused on the importance of ‘Growing Your Own’ Data Talent. For leading public & private sector organisations, this resulted in more than 70 summer Industrial Placements. Taken up by students, studying data focussed post-graduate courses, at Scottish Universities.

Closing the gap includes involving local government bodies

Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician and Data Officer, at the Scottish Government, said:

“We’re delighted to be taking on 5 people as part of their data science MSc this year. My ambition is to systematically improve Outcomes for people in Scotland with data: saving time, money and lives. Data Lab and MBN Solutions play an impressive role in ensuring we get high quality data scientists”.

The success of the #MBNSkills initiative can be attributed to bridging that the gap between academia and the workplace. Prior to working with industry, the MBN Academy team visited the relevant  Scottish Universities. They delivered a series of ‘employability sessions’. These equipped students with the softer skills required, to ensure their effective transition into full-time employment.

Rob’s team then identified & shaped Data Science placement projects, focussing on areas including:

The student experience is a crucial litmus test of such schemes

Kieran Kyle an MSc. Student from the University of Strathclyde said:

“The information provided at the session was extremely helpful. Not only for helping me find my placement, but also for carrying over into further job interviews. I managed to secure a placement with Standard Life. An incredible opportunity, that I cannot thank Rob and the MBN team enough for, it is certainly something I wouldn’t have imagined just a few years ago”. 

This year’s Programme saw an increase in the number of students placed with industry. Up 63% from the programme’s first year. It’s success has seen organisations such as:

  • Scottish Government,
  • Chevron,
  • Aberdeen Standard,
  • Clydesdale Bank,
  • Sainsbury’s Bank,
  • Scottish Enterprise,
  • Wood MacKenzie…

…work with MBN. To offer students an opportunity to learn, commercial data skills, prior to their graduation later this year.

Collaboration requires business leaders with a longer term view

Mark Hunter, Chief Data Officer at Sainsbury’s Bank commented:

“Sainsbury’s Bank is delighted to be participating in this year’s MSc placement project. It is really important, for the future of Scotland’s data industry, that our students get exposure to ‘real-world’ data projects. Hopefully this experience fuels their desire, to bring their skills to bear in Scotland, after graduating. MBN have expertly managed the process, of marrying our projects, with the students who’ll benefit the most from the experience”. 

It is clear that the #MBNSkills initiative delivers those promised results. Meeting the needs of students, academia and industry. Plus, doing so in a fashion hugely supportive of Scotland; continuing its leadership in the Data Science sector.

Government funded Innovation Centres (like The Data Lab) help

Robin Huggins, Director of the MBN Academy said:

“One of the most important aspects, of the work we do within the Academy, is ensuring that the amazing Data Talent our Universities produce is equipped. Able to handle the kind of challenges that they will face, when they transition into industry. By working in partnership, with The Data Lab, we ensure that this emerging Scottish Data Talent has the necessary domain expertise. Required to deliver the continued growth of the industry. Without initiatives of this nature, and in an uncertain economic climate, we run the risk of our organisations not being able to recruit the high quality, in demand data expertise they need”. 

Joshua Ryan-Saha, Skills Manager for The Data Lab added:

“The Data Lab is delighted that, by working with MBN Solutions, over 70 Data Science Masters students have found placements. Paid three-month placements, within Scottish-based organisations. This is an invaluable experience for these students’ careers. Allowing them to apply their rare data skills, to help solve real-world business problems in Scotland.  This placements programme is making Scotland the go-to destination for data talent”

You can find out more about MBN Solutions, or the MBN Academy, by clicking those links. MBN Academy is the part of the MBN Solutions business model. Dedicated to acting as ‘the bridge’ between academia and commercial organisations. Focussed on the Technology, Digital and Data spaces. Recognising the need for a function of this type. They have developed strong relationships with Universities and Academic Institutions throughout Scotland.

What about the rest of the UK, what are you doing?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my reason for sharing that (edited) press release – is to provoke the rest of the UK. This model has worked so well for Scotland. How can that success be repeated in England, Northern Ireland & my home of Wales?

Let me know if you are interested in taking up this challenge (either from business, government or academic organisation).

Well done to MBN & Scotland. Thinking more positively, perhaps I am just unaware of good work underway elsewhere in the UK. If so, please get in touch. I believe in the importance of collaboration between universities & businesses (especially in the fields of Data & Analytics). So, I’d be delighted to feature other positive case studies.

Until then, keep looking for opportunities to collaborate & learn.