I’d been thinking about doing a blog for a while, but the question was where to start and what topic should I choose. Colleagues gave advice – write about something you know, something you’re passionate about – maybe politics, maybe communications, but still I couldn’t decide. Then this week, I had a meeting with Robin Bargar, Development Lead for the Digital and Creative Industry Collaboration Zone (ICZ) and I knew exactly what I wanted to write about – ICZs.

Talking to Robin was an eye-opener. I was conscious that the concept of our single strategic priority could be a difficult one to grasp and part of my job here at Salford is to help articulate that. My conversation with Robin really nailed it for me – it’s not about tinkering round the edges of the curriculum, it’s not about setting targets of where we’ll be in three years’ time – it’s about a fundamental step change in the way we do things around here, listening to our industry partners, taking risks, challenging preconceived ideas and providing our students with a truly different kind of University experience.

We’re turning the University inside out and in doing so, equipping our graduates with the key skills they need for life.Trends show that graduates of the future won’t simply be taking up “careers with distinct job titles as such, but will be fluid in their approach to employment – working in a project-based and more agile way. This being so, the archetypal subject-based format becomes less and less appropriate. Only today,Finnish schools have announced they are scrapping subject-based teaching in schools and basing the curriculum around topics in order to prepare people for working life. We’re already one step ahead.

Our industry partners know what they want, as they seek to grow their businesses and are acutely aware of where the gaps lie in finding suitably-skilled graduates. Our ICZ programme means we’re in regular conversation with industry and working in real collaboration with them to ensure a constantly evolving curriculum, producing high quality graduates who are able to deliver solutions from day one. We’re not constraining our partners to fit around the, often frustrating, structures and bureaucracy of traditional higher education institutions; we’re speaking their language and adapting to their timescales.

Take the Digital and Creative zone for example, which Robin tells me should really be called Digital and/or Creative (but that’s for another blog). By using the Studio for International Media & Technology (SIM&T) – our creative technology centre based at MediaCity UK – as a production unit, we’re already providing an authentic offer for industry by investigating how we interact with data and how we can make this more meaningful.

Original 1927 theatrical release poster for Metropolis

Working with Salford City Council and the Arts Council England, we’re looking at how culture is embedded in the transformation of the city. Salford boasts a diverse population, with a rich and proud heritage which needs to be translated throughout its development. Through using digital media and data capture, we can help ensure that this Salford personality is reflected in the regeneration work to retain a sense of place. We’re working with The Lowry to enhance the audience experience in an exciting new work ‘Metropolis’, based on the science-fiction dystopian drama directed by Fritz Lang which will be premiered in 2018. Colleagues are looking at extending the reach of the performance through community installations for example, which will project the play from a Salford perspective.

A major project with Four Seasons Healthcare – the largest provider of care homes and nursing homes across the UK – sees us looking initially at design and data to improve the experience of residents, staff, carers and relatives. In the future, the project will bring in expertise from our staff and students on our Health programmes to work alongside those from Computing, Science & Engineering and Arts & Media. We’re addressing global challenges such as the development of SmartCities, through cross-curriculum work with the School of the Built Environment.

Testing out new ideas is a risk, which businesses have to manage carefully – financially and reputationally. Allowing them to use our facilities and the knowledge of staff and students to test out new products or ways of working helps them minimise these costs. Simultaneously, we’re providing our students with real life challenges to complement their studies. The students naturally then become change agents and inherently more employable.

After a fascinating hour, I was sold. The ICZs are live and happening and I’m looking forward to bringing some of the success stories to life in my day job. At Salford, we truly do things differently.