From Awards to Best Practices: UCLan Researchers Drive Innovation in Higher Education Institutions

Two applied researchers from the Media Innovation Studio group at UCLan, Dr François Nel and Dr Renuka Thakore, have developed ground-breaking evaluation tools for enterprise education with the support of a prestigious Horizon Europe grant. The Amplify instrument measures the cultures of innovation across institutions, while the I-Innovate tool gauges individual innovation propensity.

Recognised with prestigious awards and identified as a Best Practice Case Study by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, these tools empower institutions to unlock their full innovative capacity, driving sustainable growth.

In the face of the challenges facing higher education, fostering innovation and entrepreneurial skills is a crucial endeavour. A research group led by Dr François Nel and Dr Renuka Thakore from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has delved into the complexities of innovation and enterprise in higher education institutions to explore new ways of evaluating performance and cultivating potential.

The study is part of a two-year European-wide project called ‘Higher Education Innovation Growth and Training (HEIght), led by UCLan and funded by a €1.2 million grant from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Higher Education Institutions (HEI): Innovation Capacity Building for Higher Education. The project aims to boost the entrepreneurial and innovation capacity of HEIs, benefiting the communities in which they operate.

As part of a pan-European consortium that includes colleagues and students from UCLan’s Cyprus campus, the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology, Özyeğin University in Turkey, and the National Centre for Enterprise in Education (NCEE), the initiative aims to empower Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to become engines of innovation and catalysts for sustainable growth. The researchers have developed two ground-breaking evaluation tools: the AMPLIFY instrument, which measures institutional innovation, and the I-Innovate tool, which gauges individual innovation among staff and students.

For several years now, we’ve been working to provide actionable insights to support UCLan’s focussed efforts to amplify the cultures of innovation across the university. This transnational study has been a fantastic opportunity to further develop our activities and research – and increase their impact.”

Dr Nel, Reader in Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UCLan, who initiated and led the study

Identified as a Best Practice Case Study by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, these tools empower institutions to unlock their full innovative capacity, driving sustainable growth.

The Amplify instrument takes a comprehensive approach, considering the seven building blocks of an organisation’s innovation culture. By surveying and analysing data at various levels, the researchers have gained insights into how these components amplify internal cultures and drive performance. On the other hand, the I-innovate tool assesses an individual’s potential to innovate and predicts their performance based on the interconnected components of the innovation culture.

Throughout the project, encouraging results have been observed. The evaluation tools have facilitated evidence-based decision-making within HEIs, enabling them to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth. The instruments have also provided objective evidence to support the institutional environment for innovation, allowing for targeted improvements and strategic changes.

Although direct comparisons across institutions have been limited, the study has been a successful pilot project. It has been discovered that evaluation methods can leverage existing knowledge to fuel sustainable innovation. The research implications extend beyond HEIs, potentially informing policies on fostering innovative behaviours and supporting sustainable economic growth.

In the United Kingdom, where enterprise education is increasingly emphasised, evaluation tools have the potential to reshape practices. They can guide course design, budget planning, and decision-making, ensuring that enterprise education becomes an integral part of the curriculum or a separate, secure, and enduring initiative.

As the researchers continue to share their findings and best practices internationally, they hope to foster a global interest in evaluating enterprise education. By measuring and monitoring innovation potential, individuals, teams, and institutions are empowered to unlock their full innovative capacity, ultimately driving sustainable growth in unexpected places.

The project’s impact on enterprise education and innovation at UCLan has been recognised and celebrated through various prestigious awards. In 2022, the initiative helped the university make the shortlist for the Times Higher Education’s Outstanding Entrepreneurial University award, highlighting its commitment to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation within the academic community.

Building on this success, in 2023, the study was included in the university’s submission that won the trophy for the Best Entrepreneurial University at the Educate North Awards. This accolade further solidified the university’s position as a leading institution in promoting and nurturing entrepreneurial skills and innovative thinking among its students and staff.

The recognition received from these awards is a testament to the impact of the research project and the development of the Amplify and I-innovate evaluation tools. These tools have played a pivotal role in empowering UCLan to demonstrate its commitment to innovation and shaping its entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The acknowledgement received through these awards can inspire other higher education institutions to embrace the importance of enterprise education and invest in innovative evaluation methods. As the research and best practices continue to be shared internationally, the aim is to spark a global interest in evaluating and nurturing enterprise education, ultimately fostering innovation and sustainable growth in educational institutions worldwide.