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Reaping the benefits of student business consultants

Compared to other regions in the UK, businesses in the North East of England are particularly vulnerable to economic and political upheavals. According to statistics released by the Government in December 2017, the region saw a 3 per cent decrease in the number of business start-ups, making it one of only two regions across the country to experience a fall. A recent study from the University of Birmingham also found that 12% of the North East’s GDP – around £607m – is at risk from Brexit. Students at the Newcastle Business School are offering pro bono consultancy to a wide range of local businesses and their work is making a significant impact. In just five years, 220 organisations in the region have already benefited from the students’ consultancy reports that have a combined value of over £1.2 million.




Nigel Coates, a principal lecturer in Marketing, is Director of the Business Clinic at Northumbria University’s Newcastle Business School. The Business Clinic is unique in that it places emphasis on experiential learning, a term used to describe the central role experience plays in the learning process. Students here are being given the opportunity to apply their skills in a professional, work environment rather than demonstrate their knowledge through a thesis or dissertation.

The Business Clinic’s final-year undergraduate and Master’s students act as consultants to all types of businesses, from SMEs to multinationals, charities, social enterprises and not-for-profits. The students visit the organisation, communicate their progress to clients on a regular basis, conduct primary and secondary research on behalf of the client, and make recommendations in the form of a client report and formal presentation. By August 2018, more than 850 students had advised over 220 organisations on an extensive range of issues, including human resources, logistics, accounting, reviews of IT systems and digital marketing.

Dr Ed Cottam, Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Business Clinic Tutor, is leading a research project on the impact of the Business Clinic on client firms. The resulting papers will contribute to theory in entrepreneurial education, technology transfer and organisational innovation. This work is significant, in that published research in this area is currently limited.  

Moreover, since its launch in 2013, the Business Clinic has been recognised by Times Higher Education, awarded ‘Highly Commended’ by the British Academy of Management, and has received funding from Santander University (£150K over three years for internships). The scheme is regularly covered by various media outlets, and feedback from the businesses involved has been overwhelmingly positive.

For their part, the students are able to demonstrate real-life experience, increasing their chances of employment. Indeed, one PhD project, undertaken by Business Clinic graduate tutor Katie Brown and supervised by Julie Crumbley and Nigel Coates, is investigating the benefits of experiential learning and how it improves graduate employability. The Santander Universities Internships Programme enables students and graduates to embark on paid internships lasting from two to 10 weeks in small to medium sized businesses. In this way, clients have an opportunity to implement some of the recommendations included in their consultancy reports; and students have tangible evidence of business experience to put on their CVs.

For the North East of England facing the economic uncertainty of a post-Brexit future, having access to free business advice undoubtedly helps businesses to both seize opportunities and remain resilient; and, being able to offer a wide range of professional consultancy services to a gamut of organisations provides Newcastle Business School graduates with a global competitive edge.

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