Students’ employability, enterprise skills are main drivers at Coventry University, says VC

Prof. John Latham

Prof. John Latham

Prof. John Latham is the Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer of Coventry University, United Kingdom. While in Nigeria, Latham spoke with ANOTE AJELUOROU and UJUNWA ATUEYI on why Coventry University is the preferred choice for students looking for diversity of academic programmes, enterprise skills’ development and employment support after graduation.

Coventry University (CU) has been rated University of the Year in Times Higher Education 2015 awards. What were the overall indicators used in the rating?

Yes, that is like the University Oscars where you’re voted by all the other universities to see which is the best. So, it’s the best record you can get, really. The main measurements in the U.K. are around a number of very specific areas. The one that we are number 1 for in the U.K. which is very important is about student satisfaction. Student satisfaction is really the customer satisfaction. How happy are our students who are studying at Coventry? How good is the quality of education? How focused are we in giving the package that supports students during their life? It’s not only about studying for your degree but you have employability programmes that support you. We have a programme called Global Researchers Programme (GRP); we have the CEOs of world organisations who come and talk to our students and give them insight. So, a lot of the main drivers are around students’ experiences, employability and enterprise skills. So, enterprise and entrepreneurship are quite important.

That is, how much value do you add to the students? How much do they improve in terms of their intellectual knowledge and academic credibility? We have been quite innovative in that area; so, our approach to teaching is very, very innovative. We have a lot of practical-based learning; so, students learn by doing real projects at real companies, which again is quite useful for them. We have a campus in London which offers international students guaranteed 10-week placement which is again very useful for their CVs.

Universities in the U.K. that Nigerians are most familiar with are Cambridge, Oxford, East Anglia but not Coventry. What is unique and attractive about CU?

So physically, Coventry has two main campuses. We have one up in the North of England – a place called Scarborough. But two main campuses that students will have been used to are the Coventry main campus where we have about 27,000 students and then the London campus where we have close to 3,000 students. Coventry itself is about an hour from London by train; it’s right in the centre of the country. It’s in quite a prosperous area and houses the headquarters of Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martins; the CEO of Aston Martins is an alumnus of ours. So, there is quite a lot of activity around that area. We do a lot of courses in engineering

Do you have the figure of Nigerian students studying at CU?

Coventry is actually the largest; it’s the most popular university, according to the official data from the U.K. Government. Coventry is the most popular choice of universities in the U.K. for Nigerian students and more Nigerian students choose CU than any other U.K. university. What’s really interesting is that the president of our Student Union is a Nigerian student at the moment; that’s really good.

What programmes mostly attract international students to CU?

All our faculties have international students. We have about 7,500 international students on campus altogether which is quite a significant number. We’ve got a large percentage of international students doing business-related and law courses, engineering – all areas of engineering are being covered – everything from aerospace to automotive to mechanical to electrical. And then if you go into the Arts Faculty, we have seen a significant increase in the number of people who want to do creative industries-related degrees. So, its not just design but media, fashion. Traditionally, I think in most universities, engineering and business have been the big attractors but we are seeing much more diversity now; individuals want to do slightly different things.

You have your main campus in Coventry and the other in London. Do you have intention of having international outreaches/ campuses? Would you like to collaborate with any Nigerian university, for instance, for programme exchange?

We are really interested in looking. What we need is to find, as we’ve done in a couple of other countries, a couple of really innovative, modern thinking, aggressive universities and we can really collaborate and get some programmes going jointly where perhaps we’ve got student exchange, staff exchange. We’d also, perhaps, have programmes where students spend a little bit of time in Nigeria and a little bit of time in the U.K. and they’ll be back in Nigeria. They would not be studying for a Coventry degree but in partnership with a Nigerian university. It would be quite interesting to do that.

Do you have provision for scholarships and, if you do, and what are the criteria?

We do have the Merit Scholarship which is available to what we call high performing students – students with academic excellence. At the point of application, we look at their grades and look at where they stand and if it is possible for them to have a Merit Scholarship, we let them know. We also have faculty scholarships, for example. In the past, we had the Faculty of Engineering and Computing Scholarship, Faculty of Health and Science Scholarship. Around oil and gas, we have Genesis Scholarship – Genesis is a company which is focused around oil and gas and they generously work with us in supporting a scholarship programme. It’s quite a substantial scholarship for students looking to do an MBA in Oil and Gas Management at our London campus.

What do you think Nigerian education system can learn from CU? What should be the focus of higher education so it turns out right?

Well, I won’t say Nigeria is getting it wrong, but I think the issue you’ve got really is how you modernise to face what the customer requires. Most of the big changes within the U.K. education system over the last few years were around customer experience. What do students want? The U.K. government has a new bill called Teaching Excellence Framework; it’s really about ensuring excellence in teaching but also appropriate teaching so that you are teaching courses which fit the needs of industry and therefore make individuals much more employable. And that means a slight move away from, perhaps, just a traditional set of courses. So, people want courses now where the content is tailored towards either their individual needs or the needs of the industry. And we are seeing quite some dramatic changes even within the U.K. around universities’ understanding of students as being a customer not just a student. And that also aids employability; so, people find it much easier to have a job if the course they’ve studied is related to the industry which wishes to employ them. And if you can then give the additional things we are doing at CU – add the employability skills, enterprise skills, you’ll find that, actually the employment rates are very high and the student satisfaction – well, we are number one!



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