Birkbeck, University of London > Business services > Case studies > CASE studentship: mapping local channels of international learning

CASE studentship: mapping local channels of international learning 

The complementary strengths and shared aims of Birkbeck and NESTA make a natural partnership and suggested the potential for a fruitful collaboration. NESTA is the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts – an independent body with a mission to make the UK more innovative.

In 2008 Professor Helen Lawton-Smith, in Birkbeck’s Department of Management, and Dr Sami Mahroum, in NESTA’s Research and Policy Unit, were awarded a CASE studentship supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The proposal was for a doctoral research project on ‘Mapping local channels of international learning’, drawing on the expertise of both Professor Lawton Smith and Dr Mahroum. The aim was to examine the role of small and medium-sized enterprises as agents of knowledge transfer in peripheral regions in the UK in the knowledge intensive business service sector. This includes services such as financial mediation, legal activities, architectural engineering, software consultancy, life insurance, accountancy and business management consultancy.

Louise Marston, Policy Advisor on economic growth sectors at NESTA, explains 'NESTA’s work underlines the importance of innovation across all sectors, and service innovation is an area that is often overlooked. We are pleased to be able to support a wide range of academic work on innovation, and this project expands the evidence on knowledge-intensive services, an important sector for the UK.'

Maja Savic, who graduated with a first class degree in Management from Birkbeck and MSc in Political Economy from LSE, was recruited to undertake this project, which finishes in 2011. Previously she worked on a research project funded by the EU that looked into knowledge based entrepreneurship at University College London.

'The case studentship provided an opportunity to design and conduct a large survey. Not many PhD students get this opportunity. The survey forms the basis for a high-quality evidence base.'

'The studentship gave me confidence to actively seek and establish relationships with practitioners, institutions and leading academics in the field. As a result, Professor Lawton Smith, Professor Peter Wood (UCL) and I won funding from the Regional Studies Association to establish an international research network which will promote international collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking in the field.'

The project is looking in particular at how innovative business procedures and organisational innovations depend on collaboration with different actors within and across the borders in high knowledge segments of the service economy, and how these processes in small and medium companies are dependent on being located in peripheral regions.

Professor Lawton Smith comments 'The project has produced new data and insights into interconnected processes of urban and rural development through the development of the knowledge-intensive business service sector. The momentum to the service economy has profound implications for policy, particularly for entrepreneurship, skill development and knowledge transfer.'