How professional higher education can get closer to the world of work to create new innovation projects while developing the skills of the students

The ESTG-IPP Business Challenge is a 4 days´ hackathon where mixed teams composed of Students from EQF levels 5, 6 and 7, Lecturers and Researchers from the School of Technology and Management of Politécnico do Porto, develop ideas and/or prototypes for innovative solutions to real problems identified and presented by companies.

This type of dynamics aims not only to bring the school closer to the business ecosystem of the region, but also to develop some of the skills most sought by employers such as the ability to communicate, teamwork, problem solving and critical and innovative thinking.


The video below is a short interview (in Portuguese) with the managers of Fábrica Souto, one of the companies who presented a real problem – what to do with leather scraps from their shoe manufacturing plant – which was solved during one of ESTG-IPP Business Challenges. Winning team on the picture above.

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What was the challenge intended to be addressed? Why? What did work well? What did not work well? What have been the main achievements? How did you evaluate its success? What has been the change brought by this good practice?

The challenge addressed was the lack of communication between the school and the local companies and the low component of research and innovation in the business ecosystem of the region of Tamega e Sousa in Portugal. This collaboration encourages companies to innovate their products and processes and is an opportunity for students to work in real life problems, which allows them a better understanding of industrial and business sectors.
The success of this program is evaluated in two ways:
1) Number of ideas that become projects implemented by companies; and
2) Skills developed in students;
This good practice has shown that collaboration between the world of education and the world of work is welcomed and can be augmented and replicated, with benefits for all parties involved.

Success Factors

What are the enabling conditions (e.g. institutional, economic, social/cultural, regulatory) that needed to be in place or played a facilitating role for the good practice to be successful?

A good interface between the parties is necessary. This includes the establishment of a group of mentors capable of guiding the teams during the 4 days´ hackathon, helping them generate ideas that can be used in the companies.


What are the challenges, barriers or limiting factors encountered? How have they been addressed?

The major problems and challenges that have to be overcome are:
- Closure of the Tamega e Sousa business ecosystem;
- Lack of student enrolment in the challenge due to its novelty, although this problem has been gradually mitigated with each new edition of the challenge.
It is important to establish good communication channels to enable the timely flow of relevant and complete information during and immediately after the Business Challenge in order to foster the implementation of the ideas.

Feasibility & Sustainability

What are the elements that need to be put into place for the good practice to be sustainable (institutionally, socially, economically, etc.)? If applicable, indicate the total costs incurred for the implementation of the practice. What are the benefits compared to total costs?

This has very little costs whatsoever and everybody wins: The students get to perform real, relevant work, the higher education institutions get an enriched, relevant curricula, the companies get help to face the lack of resources in research and development and innovation and increase the relevance and excellence of their products and services.

Replicability & Upscaling

What are the possibilities of extending the good practice more widely? What are the conditions that need to be in place for the good practice to be successfully replicated in a similar context? What are the steps that should be taken/respected to ensure that the good practice is replicated / up-scaled, but adapted to the new context?

For the good practice to be extended it is necessary to:
1) Increase the network of partner companies;
2) Involve other professional higher education institutions, so that solutions can be worked by even more multidisciplinary teams giving a broader vision of the ideas;
3) Create partnerships with international professional higher education institutions, to allow the students an international overview of the ideas;
4) Standardize the initiative and the tools used in it.

Lessons learned

What would have facilitated an earlier and/or bigger impact? What are the key features that should be kept in mind if this would have to be implemented again? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? What could have been done better?

1) Increase the network of partner-companies, so that the implementation of ideas can be faster;
2) Standardize the initiative and the tools used in it.


Please provide some information about the context and initial situation that can help in fully understanding the action (e.g. information about the national system, applying regulations, etc.)

The world of education and the world of work are usually very closed worlds. The reasons of this closure are mostly based on organizational culture from both sides, but also because collaboration requires time and effort. Therefore, any initiative that builds bridges between the the world of education and the world of work will promote more relevant research in the first and better products and services in the latest.