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Brighton professor draws on the lessons of The Apprentice to win national teaching award

The television show The Apprentice was an unlikely source of inspiration for Bhavik Patel, a professor in the School of Applied Sciences, when he was considering how to boost his chemistry students’ employability skills 10 years ago.

Yet the lessons he took from the format have this week contributed to him being announced as a National Teaching Fellow by Advance HE in recognition of his innovative educational practice.

Advance HE’s National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) and the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) celebrate those in UK higher education who have made an outstanding impact on student outcomes and the teaching profession.

Of Bhavik, Advance HE said: “He is renowned for his work on developing novel educational practices for the delivery of analytical chemistry, and… passionate about enhancing employability skills and understanding the barriers faced by minority ethnic students in higher education.”

Bhavik said: “My teaching and learning activities are really focused around exploring innovative approaches towards teaching, either using digital technologies or different sort of activities that resemble a real-life work experience in a classroom setting. The reason that’s important is because often getting those higher-level skills of employability is really difficult to do unless a student goes on a placement or internship.”

The format of The Apprentice – which asks competitors to pitch products in a high-pressure environment – gave Bhavik an idea for encouraging his own chemistry students to step outside the laboratory and experience a common real-world task.

“We essentially got our students to critically evaluate two products, one of which was superior to the other, and then to create a host of marketing and communication materials to highlight the benefits of that product to a consumer market. We then asked them to pitch their presentations to a 10-minute board,” he said. “They got a sense of reality of the pressure, the time scales, working in groups, thinking about non-scientific communication, understanding the business element of things. It really gave them a different perspective.”

In the 10 years since Bhavik first ran this exercise, it has continued to help cohort after cohort of students, with many saying that it has even helped to provide a focal point for discussion at subsequent job interviews. “It’s been recognised as an effective teaching model by industry, by the companies that have supported us and have used it as a flagship activity and highlighted it as one of the best activities that exist to transition students from a classroom into an industrial setting,” Bhavik said.

The National Teaching Fellowship is now the fifth time that Bhavik has been recognised for his teaching: he also received a Student Union Excellence Award for Innovative teaching in 2015 and Excellence in Facilitating/Empowering Learning Awards in 2012 and 2017, as well as the Royal Society of Chemistry Excellence in Higher Education Award in 2021 for his design of innovative and effective analytical chemistry curriculums.

Of the Advance HE award, Bhavik said: “I’m kind of overwhelmed by it, to be honest, but I’m really honoured at the same time. It’s a recognition of the vision that I’ve tried to put in place for supporting the student experience in the way that I approach my teaching.”

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