The Surrey Innovation and Digital Enterprise Academy, the SurreyIDEA, is a ground-breaking initiative from the University of Surrey. Inspiring innovation and enabling social mobility.

SurreyIDEA, will welcome individuals denied the opportunity of attending university due to social restrictions or those looking to deviate away from the traditional academic route.

The pioneering academy is the first of its kind in Europe, providing a novel and progressive learning experience that enables students to gain valuable skills in an interactive format free from prohibitive entry requirements based on academic achievement – recruitment will be based on potential. 

I was intrigued, I recently sat down with Andy Adcroft the driving force behind the project so I could hear first hand his story and to find out how SurreyIDEA will work?  He explained that there were 3 streams of thought that led to the formation of the scheme.  

Firstly, social mobility and the role that education and the university should play in social mobility.  Andy was a first-generation university goer, the only kid in his school who went to university. He credits a brilliant English teacher and a brilliant history teacher in inspiring him to academic success.  Andy is now a professor but believes that it has probably become harder in recent years for someone to make the same journey that he made.  In fact he suspects that if things don’t change, in five to ten years time it will be almost impossible.  Schemes do already exist designed to assist social mobility and access to Uni for those from a background similar to Andy’s … those for example from a low social economic group, singlparent families, chaotic home lives, failing schools and so on.  Surrey University wanted to build on this work and create something new that would be a vehicle for disadvantaged students.

The second element in the new scheme has to do with entrepreneurship and helping people becoming entrepreneurs.  In the scheme, the end product of the course will be the creation of a business that is ready to go into an incubator or an accelerator.  The first year will be about understanding how businesses work.  In the second year students will develop their own business idea so that what emerges at the end of the 2 year course is a viable business. With an intake of 25 students in the first year the University is not expecting twenty-five businesses to emerge at the end of year two!  What they are hoping for is perhaps six or seven businesses that are collaborative enterprises based on 2 or 3 students working together.  And indeed collaboration and innovation do very often go hand in hand.

And thirdly, one of the really distinctive elements about this program is none of the students are going to pay fees, they all come into this program absolutely free.  But the businesses that emerge will be part owned by the University.  As Andy puts it, the University will only be successful if their students are successful, and in this respect this scheme is a new and futuristic way of looking at higher education. Andy suggests that University education is due for a reckoning sometime soon.  He believes it is a business model that is becoming less and less relevant.  What he and Surrey University want to do is provide an example of how it could change.  He hopes that they could become a beacon in the sector for how things could be different.

Initial funding for the scheme will come in part from donors and entrepreneurs associated with the University, which already boasts one of the biggest research parks in the UK.  A wide range of people are being recruited to work and teach on the program.  Some of them are academic, some of them are practitioners, some of them bridge that gap.   Andy wants to push this scheme as far away from being the traditional academic program as possible, while of course recognising that it is still very much part of the University.

I asked Andy how the new scheme would be different to something like an MBA.  He explained that it will be entirely practice-based problem-solving, focussed on real-life business situations and working towards the creation and development of actual businesses, not abstract business theory and exams.

We discussed the intellectual property aspect of the scheme.  Andy explained that as a technological university they often create intellectual property that remains unused and unexploited on a PhD library shelf.  The new scheme may access this work and suggest that the new students work on how to commercialise it and prototype it.  Even if this exercise proves unsuccessful, students will have gone through a very useful learning experience.  The practice of being an entrepreneur involves failing and understanding failure, and learning from it.  The scheme is a practical apprenticeship approach to learning and will include an immersive Monday to Friday 9-5 attendance, in contrast to the usual lecture and seminar based University schedules.  It will also include teaching on how to sell, an area traditionally looked down on by academic Universities, but obviously an essential element of entrepreneurial development.

The student recruitment process will be proactive.  Drawing on contacts with other teaching institutions, the University will actively seek suitable candidates rather than throwing out a few ads and waiting for students to respond.  They are particularly concerned that the initial 2-year course finds the right students and gives itself every chance of success.  The course launches next year in September and will be based at the Guildford campus.

The project will launch September 2020 and we will be following the progress of the course and the young entrepreneurs. If you would like to find out more about the SurreyIdea ……