Universities are storehouses for an awful lot of brain power. Building useful apps is an attractive and very satisfying way of tapping into that huge resource for the public good.
Looking back just 10 years, the Guardian sought opinions on just this subject from half a dozen professionals embedded in or working alongside some of our universities. Although the angle was what universities were developing, rather than the student body, some excellent pointers emerged. Primary amongst them was “take the quick wins and don’t focus too much initially on large scale software systems development or long term planning.”
Tapping this marvellous resource
We at The Public Purse have long advocated harnessing the exceptional ability of our university students to deliver innovative and valuable outputs if only such projects were properly packaged, presented, resourced and managed.
Students would win because it would envelop them in a positively-charged initiative that delivers genuine pubic benefits. It would help raise their self-esteem, expand their skills and add new ones, and look very good on their CVs. Real life experience counts a lot with employers.
It’s not just apps – there are unlimited possibilities in many disciplines
The same principle could guide a whole raft of projects and initiatives, from eco-construction techniques for better housing to efficient recycling of all manner of household and commercial waste, for example.
Create a framework that students can plug into to develop apps
With a little leadership from the top (government) such a framework for student engagement should not be difficult to implement.
Instead of outsourcing to commercial bodies, we should create some sort of infrastructure that allows students across the UK to create these types of applications. Within a few weeks, some of these platforms could be up and running given the right technical and organisational inputs.
Let the platform will be promoted by the students themselves. That will increase the uptake.
If it can also be revenue-generating or self-funding then all the better. Independence from the ups and downs of the economy and government fiscal policies should help assure its future.
Commercial benefits could be mined but they are not the objective
Universities have long developed associations with industry for the very reason of exploiting the skills and knowledge they possess. However, our proposed initiative is primarily a not-for-profit project. It’s intended to deliver valuable benefits for the public along with something worthwhile for the students – appreciation and satisfaction, amongst other things.
How to get started
Here is one of the first steps, neatly summarised in the article 4 Steps For A Successful Student Project:
“One of the most difficult parts of student projects – and any project in real life – is to find an innovative solution for problems around us. Paradoxically, it is not so difficult to identify large-scale global problems; however it is a challenge to scale them down to make them manageable for student teams and for implementation with a very limited budget.”
“Very often students think too big – at a very large scale – and promise to move mountains. The real skill in innovations, including social innovations, is to see the big picture and identify an angle or smaller target problem for a creative solution.”
Funding is a core enabler, as is administration to sift proposals and manage execution. Getting started can be based simply on some of the proposal templates easily found online.
What other types of student project have been successful?
Practically every university has an organised student project initiative, either student-led or managed by the faculty. We mean group projects as opposed to individuals. Some are part of coursework, some are summer holiday projects and others are long-running activities that students join and eave as they cycle through university.
They cover every imaginable subject matter too, from clean water projects in Africa to studying student prostitution.
The hidden benefits – self-esteem and satisfaction
We think people living in this world just want to be valued. And having such a framework in place should inspire these students to innovate further. Not look at the app as a source of “big money” but to feel and understand that they have developed a platform that will forever have funds to invest in communities and schools.
It’s a massive plus for a student’s CV to have been involved in a project such as this, and being a part of this app building project this could pave the way for them to confidently lead a bunch of adults in future
Jobs for the people instead of profit for corporations.