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The University of Southampton
Southampton Business School

Our collaboration with Riipen

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The University of Southampton Business School and Riipen have formed a collaboration to deliver real-world business projects online which are assessed as part of a university degree.

Case study I – The future of employer-university collaboration | University of Southampton Business School and Riipen

The world of work is changing at an unprecedented rate. More than 1.2 billion employees worldwide will be affected by automation technologies over the coming decade, and mass reskilling/upskilling programmes will be required to meet these challenges.

What does a successful employer-university collaboration (EUC) actually look like?

What follows is a case study exploring the partnership between The University of Southampton Business School and Riipen, who have collaborated to deliver real-world business projects online which are assessed as part of a university degree.


What is the employer-university collaboration (EUC) offer for learners?

The economic fallout from COVID-19 has taken the graduate labour market into uncharted territory. Even three years after leaving full-time education, the employment rate of today’s graduates is projected to be 13% lower.

The University of Southampton Business School is the first UK university to sign up with Riipen’s experiential learning platform, which offers online and flexible project-based work experience opportunities to post-secondary students.

Southampton moved quickly to rapidly scale delivery. Instead of designing new courses, lecturers adapt existing modules where the learning outcomes and module content have already been validated, as have student expectations on assessment. Partnering with Riipen enables Southampton to embed real-world projects within these modules, offer students virtual work experience placements as part of their degree, and connect students directly with employers from Riipen’s international network.

What are the outcomes for learners?

Working on Riipen’s platform has facilitated a pedagogical shift to more project-based, practical working. “Instead of just learning lots of new concepts and theories and frameworks and ideas”, says Dr Alford, “the students can actually take what they’ve learned and apply it” in real-world business situations. Students can take ownership of their own learning process, co-designing projects with businesses and building their own portfolios in order to hone their workplace skills and improve their career readiness. “Through that application process they then go back and reflect on the theory again, so it becomes a nice circle between the theory and the practice.”

Student feedback so far has been positive; live learning consistently receives high scores in module evaluations and anecdotally, says Dr Alford, “the main feedback we’ve had has been that it just brings the theory to life”.

Joshua Lawrie’s experience

Joshua was a final year student on Dr Alford’s marketing module; he graduated in 2020 with a First Class with Honours Business Degree:

As part of my degree, I took a module titled “Marketing in the Digital Age” where I was tasked with creating an end-to-end detailed digital marketing strategy for a startup in the health tech industry. The project was exciting as I was able to apply what I learnt on the module in a real-world scenario which greatly improved my capabilities, unlike many other modules which can be very theoretical. Riipen facilitated easy communication with the client, allowing us to talk freely, upload documents and view our progress throughout the course.

Although tailoring the strategy to the client’s needs proved challenging, I learnt a lot about developing client relationships and have since used the knowledge and experience, both in employment and in setting up my own business.

What are the outcomes for universities?

Universities are currently on a swift, hard learning curve around digital capability. As a short term response to COVID-19, faculty with little experience and expertise were forced to rapidly evolve solutions for moving core operations, such as teaching and assessment, online. Shawn Lestage, Director of Operations at Riipen recalls that when COVID-19 hit, “we went from being a nice-to-have platform to being a must-have”. Meeting the challenge of online teaching with improved student experience and higher student satisfaction will contribute to Southampton’s ability to meet OfS and QAA requirements, especially with metrics like the National Student Survey.

Lestage says that Riipen “intentionally over-service” their academic accounts to make the transition as easy as possible. Riipen provides a template to summarise the module offering, student responsibilities, employer responsibilities and outcomes, along with dedicated support teams to upload materials and source quality projects. This means universities can get started in just 30 minutes. In Dr Alford’s experience, “they’re not just a platform, they’re also an active partner”. At an institution or faculty level, Riipen retains 96% of customers year on year.

Dr Alford hopes that these networks might trigger new research objectives, too, “because once you’re talking to an organisation and you’ve got a foot in the door, you can start to see some of the problems they’ve got and where you could make a difference”.

What are the outcomes for employers?

Employers can use the projects for talent spotting, engaging the most talented graduates before they leave university, but they can also tap into university expertise to solve actual business problems or bring projects to address pressing skills gaps. Earlier Joshua shared his experience as a student and below, Anu Hasan, Founding Partner of SyncopeCare (the company that Joshua worked with), shares the feedback she provided on Joshua’s work:

  • Clear and precise summary of the business, ecosystem, problem statement - reflected in a comprehensive SWOT analysis.
  • Very detailed and insightful tactics lend credibility to the strategy planning.
  • Exhaustive and comprehensive TACTICS to elaborate on the strategy - especially a detailed keyword plan to assist with SEO.
  • A comprehensive and practically implementable strategy.
  • A considerable amount of original thought and work has gone into this report, with an excellent understanding of the ethos of SyncopeCare.
  • How can Joshua improve his work: If a time dimension were to be added to these tactics and implementation of the strategy this would be a complete self-standing piece of work.

Riipen’s marketplace is especially valuable to small/medium enterprises and nonprofits, who don’t have HR departments or campus recruitment budgets. “Here they can immediately connect with hundreds of institutions with a few clicks”, says Lestage, “and create a project that our team is there to support them through”.

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