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Students’ real-world experience saves virtually thousands of pounds

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Published on 09 March 2022

Three North East students have used their talents in the virtual world
Three North East students have used their talents in the virtual world

Three North East students have used their talents in the virtual world to bring some real-world value to their university – and saved them thousands of pounds.

When the University of Sunderland’s Technical Services department were moving their database platform they faced a difficult and expensive task. Using an external consultant would have cost around £1,500 a day, and failing to hit their deadline would have cost the University a further £250,000. They turned to the University’s own Digital Incubator, who enlisted the help of second year BSc Computer Sciences students George Atkinson, Menna Ghonem and Jason Swinney.

Amanda Watson, Deputy Director of Finance at the University, said: “Menna, George and Jason had the opportunity to engage with a work-based project and bring their specialised knowledge and skills that they had gained in the second year of study. They were enthusiastic and had a good work ethic which enabled the project to be completed within timescale.

“I would recommend contacting the Digital Incubator for any business problems since it is likely there are current students who can help with the correct supervision.”

The University of Sunderland’s Digital Incubator was launched last year to support the next generation of digital entrepreneurs. The project – funded jointly by UKRI Research England, the North East LEP, the European Regional Development Fund and the University – provides members with a physical space to work from within the University of Sunderland, access to academics for mentoring purposes, attend business workshops, gain one-to-one advice, and access to kit including laptops and

commercial software licenses. It also provides current students with the opportunity to apply their skills to real world problems.

George Atkinson, 20, from Sunderland is one of the Computer Science students who took on the project. He says: “The project gave me a lot of insight into the working world as a whole, specifically giving me a feel for how projects and jobs relating to computing may happen. It gave me invaluable experience with teamwork, work delegation and working to people’s strong suits as well as around their weaknesses.”

Menna Ghonem, 21, from Alexandria in Egypt, feels the project gave her a real insight into what her future career may be after she graduates this summer. “I felt sad when the project was over as I genuinely enjoyed the work I had done,” says Menna. “It is exactly the type of work I hope to do after graduation as a full-time job.”

The third BSc Computer Science student Jason Swinney, 46, from Washington, says that the experience gave him valuable experience into his chosen career.

“The project gave me experience in applying the skills and knowledge I’ve gained within my degree,” says Jason. “This was the first time I could use this knowledge within an actual real-world project, it will help me work towards my ambition of becoming a Software Consultant.”

Professor Michael Young, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), said: “The Digital Incubator offers great opportunities for students and graduates, who in this case applied their considerable skills to improve the University’s own systems. We look forward to many such projects in the future.”

For more information for students and graduates wanting to become a member of the Digital Incubator or for clients to access the range of members for work, including funding available to reduce the costs of client commissions via our Commission Suport Grant, please contact the digital incubator at digitalincubator@sunderland.ac.uk.

This programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.




Digital Incubator


The project is receiving up to £3,326,398 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.


Northern Powerhouse


The Northern Powerhouse is a key aspect of this Government’s approach to addressing the productivity gap in the North and ensuring a stronger, more sustainable economy for all parts of the UK.

Alongside over €1.5 billion of European Regional Development Fund support for businesses and communities across the North, the government has awarded £3.4 billion in three rounds of Growth Deals across the Northern Powerhouse.