Training and the hospitality industry – don’t get left on the platform !

The UK hospitality industry contributed an estimated £57 billion to UK GDP in 2014’ (BHA 2015) and still, in my opinion, we can’t seem to be able to train our employees. Is training too expensive, does it take too much time or is it due to our industry’s high staff turnover. When an employee is recruited and gets their ticket isn’t that a guarantee to training?

I was working behind a bar once and I asked an employee to cut a lemon (I was making a gin and tonic). The employee came back and had literally cut the lemon in half! Lesson learnt – communicate precisely and don’t assume that they know what you know! Just because someone is on the train it doesn’t mean they know where they’re going. All employees need training; it makes them feel part valued and part of a team and in turn we’re getting the best out of them. Investing in someone could mean a simple five minute lesson on till procedures or a full day of health and safety.

I often compare the hospitality industry to the music industry. Many people think they can sing- but how many can actually sell records? Many people think they can work in our industry but how many people can be motivated and passionate about their customers and team during the first hour and the 13th hour of a shift? Employees are predominately practical people and this is why on the job training works. Training should be a continuous activity throughout an employee’s journey. Training on the job is about observing others and doing, it doesn’t always have to be formal and structured.

Our service industries are essential; not only to the economy but also to communities, commercial business and relationships! We create opportunities for people to dress up, meet up, relax and enjoy whether it’s latte or lobster! Each service is unique and our employees create that uniqueness to achieve a stand-alone experience that someone will keep coming back for. But we can’t create those experiences without truly investing in our people.

Training is just like being on a busy train – once you have your ticket you have to fight your way to the front to get trained and a seat. You know the journey is going to be long- so let’s make it comfortable. It doesn’t matter if your train isn’t on the fastest or direct route what matters is that you’re heading for the right destination!

train picture

By Tonia Barrett

If you are interested in training issues as a manager or want some training yourself then sign up to our FREE half day event on 17th May at Staffordshire University

Reference -The British Hospitality Association (2015) The Economic contribution of the UK hospitality industry. A report prepared by Oxford Economics for the British Hospitality Association. [Online]


Pottery Places in the heart of England by Kelly Jansen (Final year student)


Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire is the capital of Potteries in the UK. Stoke on Trent is the home of several international household names such as Emma Bridgewater, Wedgewood, Middleport Pottery (home to Burleigh Pottery) and Royal Stafford who all produce china and earthenware. Famously, these pottery places attract tourists to Stoke to visit the brand they know and love.

I was eager to learn about the different visitors and their reasons for wanting to come to Stoke on Trent, so I carried a Visitor Survey at Emma Bridgewater on behalf of their Marketing Team, as primary research for my dissertation.

One of my findings was that for 60% of visitor’s at the factory, the main reason for visiting Stoke on Trent was the Emma Bridgewater site. So how has it become a destination venue?

There are plenty of things to do whilst at the Emma Bridgewater Factory, although they get really busy so where possible, I recommend booking the activity prior to arriving.

Activities available include:

The Decorating Studio – Pick your choice of item to decorate (from a mug to a dog bowl). The price of your decorating experience is dependent on the piece you choose to paint and a £2.95 studio fee. You can either collect your master piece 2 weeks later or pay a £5 postage fee.

In the decorating studio

Factory Tours – Tours around the factory to see how everything is made for a small price of £2.50 and Under 16’s are FREE.

Experience Days – Includes a behind the scenes tour, Afternoon tea, a session in the decorating studio and it includes 10% off at the gift shop. All for £30 per person!

Afternoon Tea – A great price of just £12.50 for amazing sandwiches, soups and beautiful cakes.

Café – Great homemade food that was fresh (I would recommend the Pesto chicken sandwich). The café is open to the general public, so you don’t have to be taking part in any activities, you can just enjoy the daily specials.

Secret Garden – It’s a secret… you’ll have to visit and find out yourself.

Special Event activities – for example at Halloween they had Owls, a pumpkin counting competition and fancy dress. More detail for further upcoming events available on their website –

Another bonus is the factory offer FREE parking and great transport links for example it is a 10-minute walk from Stoke train station and a 2-minute walk from Hanley bus station.

Factory Website – Facebook – Twitter – Instagram

Kelly Jansen is in her final year of BA Tourism Management she tweets at @KellyJansen95 and is on Linkedin 

Kelly Jansen and Danielle Barnsley

Kelly Jansen and Danielle Barnsley on site at Emma Bridgewater


Project PERFECT and the University of Twente Purchasing Conference

The PERFECT Project, funded by the ERASMUS+ scheme, is developing a pan-European harmonised higher education curriculum for Purchasing and Supply Management (PSM). The Project is Coordinated by Dortmund University of Technology (Germany), and Staffordshire University are working alongside the Universities of Mainz (Germany), Twente (Netherlands) and Lappeenranta (Finland). Regular partner meetings bring together representatives from the different institutions to discuss progress on the different parts of the project and ensure that the outputs of the project are timely and meet the diverse needs of the potential audience for the curriculum.

Members of the PERFECT team recently conducted a series of interviews with individuals at a wide variety of European companies in order to develop understanding of what skills and knowledge are required by PSM practitioners now and in the future. The University of Twente is currently developing a questionnaire to broaden this understanding. This work will inform the development of a robust and industry-focused curriculum that can be used by educational institutions across Europe and also inform in-house training for companies.Project PERFECT Team at University of Twente

Last week Dr Steve Kelly and Tom Ward were at the University of Twente in the Netherlands for a project transnational meeting at which representatives from all the partners were present. The meeting ended with the participants joining the annual University of Twente Purchasing Conference (UTPC), hosted by Professor Dr habil. Holger Schiele. Steve was delighted to be invited give the keynote address to an audience of practitioners, students and academics. In addition, other members of the project team delivered a workshop based on the findings of the project so far. The UTPC was organised by the students of the University of Twente who had designed a superb day, full of a variety of interesting talks and interactive workshops, and a great opportunity for networking. The participants found the work of the PERFECT project interesting and stimulating, and the workshop has opened up further opportunities for collaboration between industry and academia.Project Perfect logo

EU flag Erasmus+ logo

The creation of these resources has been (partially) funded by the Erasmus+ grant programme of the European Union under grant number 2015-1-DE01-KA203-002174. Neither the European Commission nor the project’s national funding agency DAAD are responsible for the content or liable for any losses or damage resulting from the use of these resources.

For further details of the project go to

Contact Steve at and Tom at

Staffordshire University graduate’s journey to employment

On Wednesday 1st March I was returning to my office after delivering a Financial Reporting tutorial when I was greeted by Rachel Heath (one of my personal tutees) with a beaming smile on her face.  She had just found out she had been offered a place on the NHS graduate scheme.

Rachel’s achievement is an excellent example of a highly motivated student taking advantage of all the support and guidance offered to her to enable her to achieve her dream job.

Rachel started at Staffordshire University in September 2013 studying a BA(Hons) Accounting and Finance Degree.  She had studied ‘A’ levels at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and then taken two years out of education.  However, she realised “how hard it is to progress without the knowledge and experience needed within an industry” so she decided to undertake a degree programme.

On Rachel’s second day I became her Personal Tutor, initially helping her to settle into University life and encouraging her to take advantage of all the opportunities presented to her.  In addition to regular meetings with Rachel she studied 2 modules which focus on the development of the student, Employability and Study Skills in the first year and Professional Development in the second year.  Karl McCormack the Accounting Awards Course Leader leads on both of these modules, the student’s personal tutor delivers the workshop sessions.  In these modules students develop communication and team-working skills, they focus on their career ambitions and produce development plans to ensure they gain the skills they require in order to be able to achieve their goals.  Part of the first year module involves the students getting their CVs checked by the University’s Careers Section.

The Professional Development module in the second year provides the skills and knowledge students need to help them gain a work placement.  Helping students to develop amongst other things CVs, letters of application and interview skills.

During this module Rachel started applying for placement opportunities with the support of her lecturers, Claire Bashford a Placement Consultant, Mark Wordley the Business School’s Placement Co-Ordinator and the Careers Section.  Rachel was successful in gaining a 12 month placement with Stoke-on-Trent City Council as a Business and Enterprise support student.


During Rachel’s placement she developed her communication, teamwork and leadership skills.  She also gained valuable experience of working under pressure.  She was supported during her placement year by Tony Bickley who was her Visiting Placement Tutor at the Council.

Returning to University in September for her final year Rachel set about applying for her graduate job.  Having really enjoyed working in the public sector she was keen to follow up opportunities in this area.  In February she contacted me let me know she had been selected for a 2 day assessment centre in Bristol for the West Midlands NHS Finance Management Training Scheme.  Rachel had submitted an online application which included answering 6 scenario based questions and explaining why she was applying for the scheme and the qualities she would bring to it.  After passing that stage she had to complete verbal and numerical tests online.  Having passed these tests she was invited to the 2 day assessment centre.


She told me she had to prepare a 10 minute presentation so we discussed what she could include in this and agreed in preparation of the assessment days I would observe her presentation and give her feedback on it.  By coincidence I had also been in contact with one of my students who had graduated in June 2009 Himesh Patel who is now Divisional Finance Manager at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

Himesh had undertaken his placement year with the NHS at the Princess Royal Hospital Telford.  They were so impressed with Himesh that he was offered a permanent full-time role when he graduated.  Within 3 years Himesh had gained his Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ qualification and he has since also gained his Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants’ qualification.  During his time with the NHS he has gained several promotions to his current role as Divisional Finance Manager.

cipfa cima

I contacted Himesh to see if he would be able to give advice and guidance to Rachel and he was very happy to do this.  He gave feedback on Rachel’s presentation and advised her on topical areas she could research.

When Rachel arrived at Bristol for the assessment days she met a mix of candidates going for opportunities with the NHS in the South West and the West Midlands.  There were 3 vacancies available and approximately 12 candidates.  She had to complete a time pressured written task based around a case study, a group activity, a 10 minute presentation and an interview.

Rachel’s success is no more than she deserves she is a motivated hard-working student.  Reflecting on both Rachel’s and Himesh’s success I think the key messages are as follows:-

  • Undertaking a year’s placement is vital to gain the skills employers require.
  • The support available to students from their Personal Tutor, the Placement Consultant, the Business School Placement Co-Ordinator, the Visiting Placement Tutor, Subject Lecturers, the Careers Section and Alumni illustrate how we put the student “at the heart of everything we do”.
  • The structure of the Accounting Awards including the Employability and Study Skills and Professional Development modules very much supports students in developing subject knowledge and the skills they need to gain their placement and then graduate employment opportunities.
  • These Awards receive professional accreditation allowing students to gain exemptions from certain exam papers which enables our graduates to gain their professional accounting qualifications more quickly.

For me it is success stories like Rachel’s and Himesh’s that make the job worthwhile.

Helen Buttery SFHEA CPFA Cert.Ed.

Senior Lecturer

School of Business, Leadership and Economics

@h_buttery   #proudtobestaffs

Event – Tourism Management the ‘Smart’ Way 17th May


Do you have staff that would benefit from some training? Maybe you would like to develop some knowledge in a new area such as social media or service quality? Would you like to strengthen your links in your region?

We carried out an international survey with managers and staff in the tourism industry to identify the topics that the tourism industry wanted to produce a set of learning materials, workshops and an online training tool. On the day, we will also demonstrate the online tool that has been developed so that after the event you or your staff can do the training at a time that is suitable for you.

Come along to this FREE event to network, update your skills and learn about future opportunities.

Venue: Ashley Building, Staffordshire University, Leek Road, Stoke on Trent, ST4 2DF


9.00 Registration (teas and coffees) LT111/3

9.30 Introduction and welcome Prof Jon Fairburn

9.50 – 11.00 Workshops

Workshop 1 –– Managing service quality in tourism – Carol Southall and Tonia Barrett LT14

Workshop 2 – Saving money on your energy costs – Neil Packer LT 111/113

Workshop 3 – SMARTOUR Online learning tool – Prof Jon Fairburn and Tom Ward LT 12

Workshop 4 – Food for thought – Tom Pridmore LT11

11.00 – 11.15 Time to register for online tool or network

11.15  Promoting and sustaining your business with Ron Lawrence owner of Colton House, Lichfield and Gillian Thomson from the Green Tourism Awards LT111/113

12.15 Lunch LT111/113 and LT 115 if needed

1.00 Close

Please register on the link if you have any queries about registration please contact Tom Ward or 01782 294902

About the presenters

Ron and Gay Lawrence have won many tourism awards including Green Tourism Gold Awards and Gold Tourism Awards from Enjoy Staffordshire and Visit England. Colton House is a luxury 5* Gold rated B&B, with awards for breakfasts and dinners from VE and the AA. Colton House is the highest rated accommodation provider in Staffordshire, with the facilities of a boutique country house hotel.  Tel: 01889578580

Prof Jon Fairburn leads the SMARTOUR project, teaches on the MSc Digital Marketing Management and runs the No1 twitter account for Business Schools in the world (according to Edurank) @BusinessStaffs

Carol Southall is a senior lecturer and the Award Leader for Tourism Management courses at the University she has also worked extensively in the tourism industry over the last 20 years. @cdesouthall

Tonya Barrett has previously worked in the tourism and hospitality industry and current lectures at Staffordshire University

Neil Packer is a Senior Lecturer in Engineering he has previously worked in the private sector and public sector on energy issues before joining the University.

Tom Pridmore has worked in the tourism industry for over 30 years. He is currently a Ribble Valley Tourism Officer and a director of TEAP Associates and a leading member of the Tourism Management Institute 

If you are a member of a professional organisation then attendance should count as 4 hours CPD accreditation (more details to follow soon)

Useful links



A new and rapid way of marketing – Digital Marketing


Whilst supporting businesses, I’m often asked “What is Digital Marketing”, and frequently people think it’s just social media marketing, for example marketing via Instagram or Twitter.  Digital Marketing encompasses much more than this, so in this article I’m going to give a brief overview of digital marketing and discuss some key points about how to make it effective for businesses.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing unlike the traditional means of marketing, encompasses marketing of products or services through the numerous available electronic media. It presents marketing of these products/services in such a way that the channels and methods utilized will enable the service provider or product manufacturer to analyse, survey and review marketing trends, and therefore know what is working effectively. This part is very important, marketers must prove, with data, that each part of their digital marketing is working and providing a Return on Investment etc.

Blog 1

If done correctly, Digital Marketing can put customers in control, drive brand loyalty, reduce the selling cycle, build your brand, and it should be measurable and cost-effective.  The key areas Digital Marketing encompasses are:

  1. Social Media Marketing (SMM) These days, most people are on some form of Social Media e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Periscope etc. Social media marketing, involves using these platforms to gain website traffic or improve brand awareness and customer service. These platforms usually have analytics and a particular target customer base, e.g. LinkedIn for business people to network and also find employment. Therefore, each of these platforms can be used in a targeted way. As with any marketing tool there are good and bad ways of using them, for example, response rates can be shown to be higher with videos and pictures rather than just text. With good content curation, readers will share your social media with their networks and in effect become advocates. Readers are more likely to look at Social Media from friends than direct marketing from organisations, so it can be one of the most cost effective forms of marketing.  If this sharing becomes widespread it’s known as Viral Marketing. An example is the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, ALS did not invent the challenge but it became widespread and included Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates taking part.
  1. Website design Website designing is the process of gathering ideas and concepts, and the implementation of these concepts for the purpose of creating content on web pages or the internet, for the benefit of end-users to utilize and get the necessary information with any web browser. However, done properly it is much more than this. The website has to be easy to use and navigate, pleasing to the eye, and work in such a way that it gets results. The website design includes the website layout, colours, font, multimedia, interactive features and compatibility e.g. being mobile compatible. An organisation I have worked with, 6 Towns Radio, in some months can have over 60% of their website visits via tablets and mobile phones (see Websites such as blogs can be developed in such a way that they can have a high SEO ranking and be monetised to earn income e.g. via affiliate marketing.
  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is using a range of tools and techniques, so that ideally your website appears at, or near the top, of the not-paid for (organic) area of the search engine page, when people do an online search for your product or service. This is so that you can drive online traffic to your website and create awareness about your products. It involves the web-site and web-page design, words you use on your page, keywords terms, number and quality of web-sites linked to your page, how often it is updated and developed, etc, and being structured in such a way that search engines understand and rank it ideally higher than competing websites. On top of this, it has to be done without diminishing the value of what you have to offer.
  1. Pay per Click (PPC) is a way of buying visits to your sites rather than attempting to earn them through SEO. This is because PPC is a medium where marketers adverts should appear near the top and/or side of the first page of a search result and they will pay for every click made on their advert. The advantage of PPC is that if done correctly it can create instant results, the dis-advantage is that once you stop paying you stop getting results, whereas good SEO will carry on working. Creating an effective PPC campaign involves research, content curation and continually testing the results.
  1. Display advertising (banner ads) As technology advanced, advertising began to take new forms with the advent of digital advertising techniques. Essentially, it entails the use of ads that can be in form of text, video or audio for advertisement purposes on a website. With increasing sophistication of mobile apps and technology, banner advertising can be geo-demographic and person specific so that these become very targeted.
  1. Email marketing The electronic mail set the initial trend for internet advertising and even though many predictions have talked about the decline in its usage, it can still be a very cost-effective form of marketing. Email marketing can be a vibrant means of communication and helping a business to grow, by employing a very direct and cheap marketing means of sending newsletters and other types of information to a target audience. Online systems such as Email Servers and CRM systems can automate the subscription, sending, un-subscribing etc. of emails, for example auto-responders can send out targeted emails on a timed basis or automatically respond to an enquiry. Increasing concerns about receiving unwanted emails (Spamming) will soon mean that that you need to be able to demonstrate that customers have subscribed to your emails and they are not on an exclusion database, similar to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), but for emails.
  1. Content Curation I’ve put Content Curation as a separate topic as it is a key factor in all of the above topics and in today’s digital world, content rules the space. Generally, content marketing cuts across infographics, webpages, podcasts, videos, books, eBooks, apps etc. It is a technique used for the creation and distribution of invaluable content in a consistent manner to a target audience. The aim of spreading the content and feeding it to the target audience is usually so that they can take some actions e.g. buy a product, apply or subscribe to a service etc. Content curation can take a company near bankruptcy and change it into one of the worlds most powerful brands as demonstrated by Lego who have developed an  interactive customer friendly website and even have Lego based films so customers are happy to watch, what is effectively, a very long advert.

Screenshot of Lego website

As mentioned a few times above, a key point is that if you are involved in marketing you need to be able to prove, with current data, what you are doing so that you can improve upon it.

When marketing via social media, websites, etc. you need to monitor and review:

  • which platforms your customers are using,
  • when they are using them, e.g. which days and what time,
  • how are they using them, e.g. a casual look or actually interacting with your marketing and using them as part of their decision-making to purchase,
  • And how this all links together to make a purchase, in what is known as the customer funnel.

If you do not use data you could be wasting your time and money marketing in areas that do not work, for example marketing on Twitter when your customers are using Instagram and Snapchat, or, marketing to potential customers on Snapchat during the working day when they typically use it early or late in the day and weekends.

An area that I get involved in with businesses and Social Enterprises is something called Conversion Rate Optimisation where we can improve the number of customers visiting and purchasing products/services. Typically this includes :-

  • checking and mapping how you are marketing and how your customers are using the internet;
  • measuring what customers are doing with your marketing, e.g. via Google Analytics or Facebook Insights;
  • testing via split-testing to improve results (also know as A/B testing),
  • continuing to test and improve customer conversions and the size of purchase.

As we can monitor and improve online and see instant results, it has led to a form of marketing called Growth Hacking. This is where we undertake and monitor rapid experimentation across online platforms to find the most effective and efficient ways to engage and grow a business customer base. It should develop long-term sustainable growth, not just short term profit.

The above and much more is covered in MSc Digital Marketing Management and BSc Digital Marketing Management at Staffordshire University.


Paul Dobson BSc(Hons), DIT, DMS, MSc, MA, MBA, PGCHPE, FHEA, FCMI, MAM

Senior Lecturer in Digital and Strategic Marketing – Staffordshire University Business School



The end of experts and the threat of the 140 character argument

It seems that there is a bout of soul-searching underway as we search for certainty in a changing and tumultuous world. The authority and legitimacy of the ‘expert’ is being questioned and routinely dismissed in a way that seems to suggest that anyone with a modicum of freemium reading believes they are empowered to refute or ignore the arguments of subject experts.

The issue surfaced substantively following the crash of 2008.  People questioned why experts hadn’t foreseen it and. Even the Queen asked a gathering at the LSE why nobody had noticed it coming. More recently during the Brexit referendum politicians of both sides were not seen as credible by the people they were trying to scare.  The ex-justice secretary Michael Gove in an interview in 2016 said that “people have had enough of experts.   More recently the UK government criticised The Bank of England governor Mark Carney for running dubious monetary experiments an argument subsequently endorsed by William Hague.  Lately the theme was picked up by the Bank of England’s chief economist Andrew Haldane who argued that people had lost faith in the theoretical models used by economists and that economists were guilty of talking mainly to themselves and failing to reflect on the gap between theatrical models and real outcomes.

At a time when information is both cheap and must be served in easy to digest lightweight chunks and meaning is up for debate, making business decisions without critical thinking and the expertise of the expert runs the risk of succumbing to the cult of the individual.  Indeed, the cult of the individual over substance is a trend that Alain Sylvain, founder of strategy and planning consultancy Sylvain Labs believes has been developing since the financial crash and dotcom bust.

Dismissing the opinions of experts in both business and society is a simple way of avoiding a change of opinion or use evidence based analysis to form a decision.  Indeed, such refutation is a repudiation of both critical thinking and of fallibility.

What are the implications for marketing?   The risk for the discipline lies in the rejection of craft and deep understanding that is expertise for the gloss of the web guru state of marketing.   Here the latest list of must do things to ‘win’ in online marketing is the first thing management turns to.  Who needs a marketer when the answers are just a click away?  Superficial list based marketing promises that the answers to your marketing problems lie on the page.  That all you need to do is keep reading, subscribe and bookmark.  But such an approach has real dangers.  First of all everyone has access to the same list.  But more seriously real expertise and results that flow from it come from deep understanding of principles and their application in the world.  In other words, expertise understands that performance is contextual to situation and is an amalgamation of different types of knowledge often referred to as tacit and explicit.   This offers a level of subtlety that no list based promise can match

The message for companies is that in a discipline which so easily succumbs to the new and shiny, the lure of succumbing to the cult of the self-promoting proselytizer can obscure true expertise.   Companies should therefore be careful to ensure they understand the difference between expertise and self-promotion and develop means to propagate the emergence of expertise.   Nonaka demonstrated how the potential to create performative knowledge which has real traction in the world is accomplished.  It is through challenging existing knowledge, bringing in new knowledge but adapting it.  It is through a dialogue between theory and practice that enables new knowledge capable of creating epistemic work beyond that provided by following explicit instructions or some pundit.    It is through the creation of genuine expertise and a commitment to creating a culture of knowledge creation.  This is a storey that the most successful companies already understand

Dr Malcolm Ash,  EdD, MSc, MBA, DMS

A Business course but not as we know it…

For all those students currently poring over business textbooks and journals, spare a thought for the Staffordshire University final year undergraduates who were invited to a Conference at the beginning of February to listen to not one business leader but eight high flyers who came to share their knowledge and experience.

GBD Wendy Dean presentation (002)

The Global Business Directions Conference is in its third year and is a unique opportunity (we feel) for our students to benefit from contemporary business commentary. The companies represented included big corporations and conglomerates such as the BBC and British American Tobacco, alongside local Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) Valentine Clays.  We even doffed our caps to welcome the Chief Constable of the Staffordshire Police!

Topics covered were broad in range and focus and included presentations on organisational culture impacting on productivity, how to enter new international markets and developing a growth strategy for an SME.

The speakers were all exceptionally well received (with some being ‘mobbed’ with questions after their sessions!) and our students now have the opportunity to research and reflect upon what they have learnt.

The Conference is part of a University wide strategy looking to build on our engagement with business and offer our students a unique experience within their Business Management degree.

Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Events Management


Take the Fast-Track to Success with your Degree in 2 years!

In Feb 2017 the universities minister Jo Johnson MP ( brother of Boris) announced that a “new generation” of two-year fast-track (accelerated) degrees are going to be offered to students.

Here at Staffs Uni Business School we have been delivering two-year fast-track degrees for the past 8 years with great success including Accounting & Finance, Business Management, Tourism and Events Management. We were amongst the original pioneers of fast-track degrees!

Doubters and cynics are wrong (in my opinion!)

Like all new ideas and initiatives, the fast-track schemes have their doubters.  We were told that there would not be a demand for fast-track degrees. We felt confident that the demand would be there and adopted the Kevin Costner “build it and they will come” approach (have you seen Field of Dreams?) – and come they did!

The Twitter hashtag #fasttrackdegrees reveals some doubters as to the validity of fast-track degrees. Also the University and College Union general secretary was quoted last week as saying “Accelerated degrees risk undermining the well-rounded education upon which our universities’ reputation is based”.

These unnecessarily negative perceptions have prompted me to put pen to paper (figuratively!) to dispel their doubts and concerns and explain the fast-track benefits in the tables below:

Perceptions vs Reality

Perceptions Reality
“The courses of study will be too intense for students” Students study with and at the same pace as the three-year students with an extra ten weeks during the normal four month summer break – still plenty of time for R&R!
“The fast-track courses will not cover the same depth of subjects as the three-year versions” The content is the same breadth and depth as the three-year degree courses


“The students will not have enough holidays over Christmas and Easter” Fast-track students have the same holidays over Christmas and Easter as the three-year students
“The students will not have sufficient time during the traditional four month summer break to “wind down”, go travelling & gain work” The fast-track summer semester combines a two-week intensive study school followed by distance learning allowing students to self-manage their study time
“Academic staff will not be available to teach during the summer” Teaching is spread out amongst the teaching teams to cover all bases
“The work load on staff will be too great” The two-week study school is intensive – but enjoyed by staff!
“Employers will not value fast-track degrees”


On the contrary – employers value fast-trackers’ drive to succeed in two years

Reasons to choose a Fast-Track degree

  1. Graduate one year earlier than otherwise – so you are able to get “lift-off” in your career before your friends who go down the three-year route
  2. Save a year’s money on living expenses
  3. Study with a like-minded group of committed students who are focussed on success and provide mutual support
  4. Stand out in the crowd – showing the ability and motivation to achieve a degree in two years is something to brag about in an interview!
  5. Whether you want to change career or were not sure of what you wanted to do after school/college – this gives you a quick way of repositioning yourself in your career.

I enjoy teaching the fast-trackers students during the two-week “study school” phase during the first summer.  We spend 15 hours together over 3 days studying taxation – I can assure you that this is a real bonding experience and it doesn’t take long for the banter to start (both ways!).

We are very proud of the great students who have graduated from our fast-track degrees. I am confident that our fast-track courses will grow and become more mainstream in the future.

So, what are you waiting for?



Senior Lecturer

School of Business, Leadership and Economics

@tonybickley   #proudtobestaffs

Stoke on Trent’s problem is not too many immigrants but too few!

Successful economies attract people whether they be countries, regions or cities. Diverse populations tend to be more tolerant, innovative, entrepreneurial and to have networks linking to elsewhere in the world, which benefit the economy. New people bring new cultural experiences whether that be events, art, food or celebrations.

The lack of diversity in the city even 15 years ago is clear from statistics. The 2001 census for Stoke on Trent saw the city population as 95% white and 96% UK born (the rest of Staffordshire was even more homogenous, for example Staffordshire Moorlands recorded 99.2 % white and 98.3% born in the UK).

The city has experienced a long term population decline in the post war period. The population of Stoke on Trent in 1951 was 275,115 and it has declined in every census up to and including the 2011 census which recorded 249,008 people. In comparison, the UK population grew from 41 million in 1951 to 63 million over the same time period tied to the post war boom in the economy. If Stoke on Trent had grown in population like the rest of the country it would now have a population of 453,000!

Currently the city population is estimated at 251,027 so for the first time in over 60 years Stoke on Trent has a growing population.

So what explains this current growth in Stoke on Trent? Throughout the 2000s three changes started to occur:

  1. Higher education expanded leading to an increase in all students including non-white students (often from other parts of the Midlands), international students and international staff at the two Universities.
  2. The coming of age of the Pakistani population that was the largest ethnic minority population (which even in 2001 only numbered 6,360 people).
  3. The inflow of population from Eastern Europe, which for Stoke was 3,080 people in the 2011 census.

Taken together the numbers are all low (both in absolute and percentage levels), especially compared to many other major urban areas in the UK. It is worth noting that here I have quoted numbers both foreign born and by non white ethnic group but it is worth remembering that many of these were born in the UK as well.

Therefore, the make-up of the population of the city has changed and the population is finally starting to grow though at very small levels.

Without immigrants our hospitals and care homes would struggle, our Universities would be smaller and some businesses would not be able to offer the services they do. The vacancy rate in the housing stock of the city has fallen and study after study shows that the immigrant population is a net contributor to the economy (not least because they are much less likely to claim benefits that the UK born population).

Some political parties like to blame these changes for the plight of the white working class in Stoke and elsewhere, but the reasons for economic weakness in the city are tied up with other factors.  Low skills levels, lack of investment, short term planning by government, offshoring of production, very low levels of business start up and changes in the world economy are much better explanations for the low wages and economic performance of the city than trying to blame immigrants. 

Some of these factors are staring to be tackled. For example the City was recently named the 2nd best place in the country to start up a business. The Ceramic Valley Project has set up sites across the city to attract businesses and this is already happening.

The City of Culture team is doing huge amounts of work talking to different groups, artists, businesses and others in the city to shape the bid and develop a positive image of the city.

As a city we need to attract investment and people – we need to present a positive and welcoming image to the outside world. An image that celebrates all the of people and communities of Stoke on Trent not just some of them.



  1. Population census Stoke 2011 – total pop 249,008 – white 220,712 all other ethnic groups 28,296
  2. Population census Stoke 2001 country of birth – total pop 249,008 born in UK 228,294 all other Europe 5,363 (of which Accession countries were 3,080) , Africa 2,805 , Middle East and Asia 10,897 America and Caribbean 731, Antarctica and Oceania 305