Case Study

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Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships: Developing and retaining research and development skills to strengthen the Welsh knowledge economy

  • A major European Convergence programme led by Bangor University which supports collaborative research projects with external partners based in the West Wales and the Valleys.
  • Received £73 million to support the programme.
  • Increasing the research capacity of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by linking with a PhD or research master’s projects.
  • Promotes higher-level skills development.

Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship (KESS) is a major European Convergence programme led by Bangor University on behalf of the higher education sector in Wales. The programme benefits from European Social Funds, KESS supports collaborative research projects (research master’s students and PhD) with external partners based in the West Wales and the Valleys. It has an integrated higher-level skills training and development programme, leading to a Postgraduate Skills Development Award. The first phase of KESS received £33 million and provided 453 PhD and master’s degree places (230 PhD and 223 research master’s degrees) with Welsh organisations, of which 61% were SMEs.

Following the highly successful KESS I programme (2009-2014), KESS II is now running, a major pan-Wales programme developing and retaining the research and development skills needed to strengthen the knowledge economy in Wales, which will provide 645 scholarships over the course of six years. It will enable over 500 businesses to work with academics and postgraduate research students on innovative research projects aimed at driving business growth. The key objectives of KESS II are to:

  • Increase the research capacity of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) by linking with a PhD or research master’s project;
  • Encourage SMEs to undertake research and recruit researchers;
  • Prepare and train individuals to contribute to research as professionals;
  • Support the development of key technologies in the Convergence Area of Wales; and
  • Promote higher-level skills development.

KESS II aims to increase the number of individuals with higher level skills in research and innovation working within knowledge-based businesses in Wales.

Led by Bangor University, eight Welsh universities participate in KESS II. The partners range from SMEs to large companies, social enterprises and public bodies. Examples include Tenovus Cancer Care, Natural Resources Wales, Tata Steel, S4C, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Mencap Cymru, Halen Môn, Qioptiq Ltd., P&S Nano Ltd. and the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay. KESS II projects keep the needs of the participating businesses at their heart. The programme offers a low cost means by which a company can engage in a research project, together with the opportunity to develop a long-term relationship with a university. KESS II also provides a platform to access the latest academic developments and a chance to develop in-house research and development activities.

KESS II is part of a transnational network. Students benefit from dynamic interactions with other research students and their industrial partners at some of Europe’s leading universities. Collaborations between businesses and universities contribute significantly to the future employability of students, and the students value the experience of the company context. The majority of KESS graduates are now working in industry.

‘The KESS II scheme has been an amazing opportunity for Tenovus Cancer Care. It has given us the opportunity to be a much more active partner in the research and really make sure that the outcomes of it are implemented and widely disseminated.’ Dr Ian Lewis, Tenovus Cancer Care.

‘I realised that KESS catalysed the perfect relationship between me, the academic environment and the industrial needs of the real world. I learnt that the work that I am doing is not about me anymore or just for knowledge expansion purposes but that it contributes to the development of industry in a real setting.’
Adrian Mironas, KESS II PhD student, Aberystwyth University.

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