Everyone’s a winner: developing mutually beneficial partnerships 

Wendy Johnston

Photo of brown jigsaw pieces

What is the idea?

The curriculum and the experiences of the students within it can be brought to life through developing collaborative partnerships and embedding live industry briefs within the curriculum. Successful collaboration between Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), external partners and students provide authentic learning experiences, which develop students’ capabilities and entrepreneurial skills, helping to prepare them for their transition out of university and into graduate employment. Collaboration with industry and engagement in real-world problem-solving projects, such as live product development briefs, stimulates active learning and encourages students to be critical, creative entrepreneurs producing work that is not just for assessment purposes but can also be used externally to the university thus helping to develop graduate skills.

Why this idea?

I wanted to bring the curriculum to life by embedding live collaborative briefs into the curriculum, creating authentic, active learning experiences and to ensure that live projects gained a prominence in students’ lives, which was more than simply completing assignments and assessments. Working collaboratively can positively influence student learning, helping them to understand that their work is valued which in turn makes them feel valued.

Chickering and Gamson (1987) propose that students do not learn much just sitting in class listening to teachers, they must be actively engaged in learning, whilst Thomas and Busby (2003) suggest that engaging in real-world problem solving helps develop creativity, critical thinking and the development of graduate skills. However, to genuinely engage students in the creative process, the classroom environment has limitations.

Tailoring in real-life opportunities and highlighting real-world applications of knowledge and skills, helps harness student motivation and ensures students apply what they learn to real-world contexts enabling them to work within authentic settings. Collaborations and live briefs engage students, and enrich and enhance the student experience, academically and materially. Furthermore, they strengthen the links between HEI providers and industry, bridging the theory–practice gap, helping facilitate the delivery of a more effective curriculum. Live briefs provide opportunities for students to learn from and with an external partner whilst experiencing working to an industry-led brief with realistic constraints. They help facilitate deep learning, enrich teaching and learning, inspire students to produce outstanding work and can increase employability. Working collaboratively with major food and equipment manufacturers students have developed and written recipes for company websites, developed innovative desserts for a high-end dessert manufacturer, developed and presented recipes for trade/food shows and developed chocolates which were included in tasting boxes for a British chocolate brand. A student states:

”Working with an external company on a live brief allows us to put what we have learned into practice. It gives me a sense of pride seeing my work used outside of university.”

When developing live briefs, it is essential to ensure that they are not just contrived scenarios, but that they are carefully planned, collaborative, dynamic, industry-based live projects which have defined outcomes agreed between the university and the collaborative partner and clearly linked to assessment criteria. It is important to explore how collaborations can benefit all parties. With this in mind I aspired to develop authentic learning environments which linked students with external partners, and which crucially were beneficial to the students and external partners: a win-win situation. ‘Building partnerships with industry is mutually beneficial to institutions and working professionals, it not only serves students well, but it helps to keep the curriculum relevant and current whilst for industry it is a chance to scout for new talent’ (Hitchings, 2016, p. 625). Working with a collaborative partner encourages personal and professional development, equips students with world-of-work and entrepreneurial skills and helps equip them for graduate employment.

So in response to the question ‘why?’ I believe that ‘combining the individual perspectives, resources and skills of the partners and the group creates something new and valuable together – a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts’ (Lasker et al, 2001, p. 184).

How could others implement this idea?

‘Trust and mutual interest are an important enabler to successful collaboration’ (Nielsen & Cappelen, 2014, p. 338).

  • If you are new to collaborative partnerships, identify external partners that you have contacts with whose work may link with your programme.
  • Determine if the partner would be willing to work with you, your students and your institution and explain the benefits to them of working with a HEI.
  • Use the assessment criteria and learning outcomes of the module and work with the external partner to identify a project area that would be mutually beneficial to the partner, the students and the HEI.
  • Work in conjunction with the external provider to develop and write a live brief that meets the module learning outcomes, assessment criteria and the requirements of the external provider. Agree if equipment/resources needed for the live brief will be supplied by the external partner, or if there is additional cost.
  • Agree the format of the module with the programme team and external examiner.
  • Use the introductory session to highlight the benefits of working with an external partner to the students. Introduce the external provider to assist with the introduction and explanation of the live brief, and to allow them to meet the students.
  • Actively involve the external partner in practical sessions and the module assessment session to create an authentic learning environment.
  • Communicate virtually with the external throughout the module and agree mechanisms for dealing with students’ questions and answers.
  • Build a visit to the external company into the module to add authenticity and enable students to connect with a wider range of professionals.
  • Obtain permission from the students for their work to be used externally to the university.
  • Obtain feedback from students/ external partners to inform future collaborations.
  • Collaboration is more than just working together it a process of shared learning (Gassner et al, 1999).

Transferability to different contexts

This approach has been used within the subject area of Food and Nutrition. However, the key principles for developing collaborative partnerships will be of interest to practitioners from other disciplines such as science, engineering, and technology.


Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

Gassner, L.-A., Wotton, K., Clare, J., Hofmeyer, A., & Buckman, J. (1999). Theory meets practice. Evaluation of a model of collaboration: academic and clinical partnership in the development and implementation of undergraduate teaching. Collegian, 6(3), 14-28.

Hitchings, M. (2016). Career opportunities: Connecting design students with industry. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 228, 622-627. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.07.095

Lasker, R., Weiss, E., & Miller, R. (2001). Partnership synergy: A practical framework for studying and strengthening the collaborative advantage. The Milbank Quarterly, 79(2), 179-205. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0009.00203

Nielsen, C., & Cappelen, K. (2014). University-industry collaborations. Higher Education Quarterly, 68, 375-393. https://doi.org/10.1111/hequ.12035

Thomas, S., & Busby, S. (2003). Do industry collaborative projects enhance students’ learning? Education+ Training, 45(4), 226-235. https://doi.org/10.1108/00400910310478157

Image Attributions

Brown puzzle pieces photo by Dmitry Demidov from Pexels

About the author

Wendy Johnston is a Senior Lecturer at LJMU, a National Teaching Fellow and holds Senior Fellowship status with Advance HE. Wendy is committed to implementing innovative, active learning techniques, developing authentic learning environments through the development of external partnerships/ collaborations, and continuously strives to make learning and teaching enjoyable and memorable.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by Wendy Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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