Australian university students can provide businesses with crucial outside-in innovation, to meet the rapid pace of technological change disrupting the economic landscape.
That’s according to University of Technology Sydney, Associate Professor Natalia Nikolova, Director of the UTS Advanced Master of Business Administration program, which focuses on the development of skills for the future of work.
“We need to constantly re-skill and upskill in order to be prepared for the way jobs are changing due to new technologies,” she says.
Work integrated learning, which combines university study with intensive industry collaboration, is enabling businesses to respond quickly to rapidly changing trends, according to Associate Professor Nikolova.
“The majority of the projects we focus on, are how emerging technologies can create new opportunities or can lead to new business models for the client organisations we work with,” she says.
Cross pollinating amid digital revolution
It’s a sentiment echoed by the World Economic Forum, which is urging universities globally to embrace an ever-expanding role in driving innovation and catalysing economic development.
And to meet the challenges of the digital revolution by ‘encouraging collaboration with the private sector,’ ‘fostering entrepreneurship,’ ‘exploring the nexus of technology and society,’ as well as ‘promoting diversity and inclusion.’
The cross pollination of ideas between universities and the private sector delivers major benefits for both students and businesses alike, says Associate Professor Nikolova.
“In many organisations groupthink and resistance to change stifle new ideas.
“There’s a fear of speaking out or coming up with new ideas, because if they fail, there’s a loss of reputation and blame.
“Students can see the blind spots of organisations and they don’t have to worry about how the rest of organisation will judge them – it’s more about putting up the evidence.
“Students work with companies to investigate how new technologies can provide additional value, which leads to the development of new services.
“We’ve had one example with an SME in the building sector, which provides sensors that regulate lighting.
“The students conducted a comprehensive analysis of the company strategy, but also did a thorough analysis of the key trends in the building sector – the key trends that are going to impact the building sector in the coming years.
“They recommended a very specific and innovative business model for the company, where they can move away from just selling products, to actually selling a service to their clients – moving into the space for smart buildings.
“The other big advantage is that because our students come from different industries, they bring their insights from a range of industries to the clients.”
Building a creative economy
Such initiatives come amid renewed calls for Australia to bolster its creative economy, following a Harvard University database, which ranked the nation’s economic complexity in the same league as Senegal, Uganda and Morocco.
The study found Australia has limited opportunities to develop new products and instead relies heavily on commodity exports, instead of using its workforce to create value.
But while university-industry partnerships can play an important role in fostering innovation within the economy, Associate Professor Nikolova says government must take the lead.
She says while Australia’s startup and international student sectors are faring relatively well, more must be done at a broader level.
“Australia seems to be lagging, we don’t have appropriate innovation policy, we have not had any for years,” she says.
“Malcolm Turnbull announced we were going to have one, but nothing happened.
“If the world stops buying the minerals that we export, then we are in big trouble. We are already falling behind in terms of support for new industries and technologies and investment in research and development.
“A lot of universities have been doing very innovative projects, but that is not going to replace good government policy – where the government stimulates the creative economy within the digital sector.”