Fiona Whitehurst

  • Senior Lecturer and Director of Impact, Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle University
  • ‘Virtual Createathon’ facilitator, designing enterprise and entrepreneurship curriculum

Brief outline of your research interests/interest in the work of Creative Spark

My research interests relate to the role of higher education in local economies.  Through designing interventions (with colleagues), I explore the ways in which students and small businesses can interact in a way that is mutually beneficial, when brought together by a Business School. Most of my work has been within the North East of England, so Creative Spark has been an opportunity to explore these interactions in a very different context, that of Azerbaijan.


Why you think Creative Spark is important?

From the British Council's point of view Creative Spark is a significant programme to support international university and institutional partnerships to develop enterprise skills and creative economy across seven countries in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan), South Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia) and Ukraine. From the Business School and Newcastle University's point of view, I think it is important that we develop international partnerships, especially in areas where we have expertise such as the creative economy, as demonstrated by our lead of the Creative Fuse North East project.


What you’ve done in the Creative Spark project so far?

In November 2018, I represented Newcastle University at the Georgia Programme Partners Meeting and Policy Dialogue where more than 120 representatives from the UK and all seven partner countries met in Tbilisi, Georgia for the first time. 

In May 2019, I facilitated a week-long Study Tour for representatives of our three partner universities in Azerbaijan, Baku Engineering University, Azerbaijan State University of Economics and Azerbaijan State Agrarian University and the Center for Economic Reforms Analysis and Communication (CAERC). The delegation met staff and students and learned about the Business School’s approach to designing enterprise and entrepreneurship curricula for business and non-business students. We were also able to participate in some of the activities taking place during Newcastle Startup Week including a creative industries-focused event at Gateshead College and the delegation met representatives of Newcastle University's STARTUP team to learn about our support for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

In July 2019, I had the pleasure of being able to visit Azerbaijan. Paul Richter and I, along with a former colleague, Simon Down, now at Birmingham University, were hosted by CEARC. We learned much more about Azerbaijan and its Higher Education system. We facilitated a 'Createthon' where two small businesses worked with around 20 students and were able to visit a start-up incubator in central Baku. We also were treated to some wonderful hospitality.

In September 2019, we were invited to present the lessons learned from our partnership at the Creative Spark Oxford Conference and I presented on behalf of the partnership.

I was due to go back to Azerbaijan in March 2020 for a Creative Spark Road Map Meeting, but coronavirus halted that. However, I was able to participate with Vicky and Matt in the online version in May 2020.


What you’re interested in seeing happen in the Creative Spark project in the future?

With the necessity to move all activities online, I am interested in facilitating activities online with students in Azerbaijan and the UK and learning about the experiences of enterprise educators in both countries in moving teaching and learning online. I also want to see the partnership flourish and hopefully I will have the opportunity to return to Azerbaijan at some point in the future.