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Shaping Australia’s future: higher education and industry partnerships

Do you know what the Cochlear implant, spray-on skin for burn victims and extended-wear contact lenses have in common? They were all pioneered at Australian universities… but it was through partnering with industry that these life-changing innovations had maximum impact worldwide.  

When our universities unite with industry they have the power to change the world, not just through pioneering inventions but in ways that benefit many areas of society. And it’s not just universities bringing their problem-solving ideas to industry, industry also takes ideas and challenges to universities to solve together. That’s exactly what happened when a team from Deloitte decided to tackle a national problem – a cyber security skills shortage. 

Early in the pandemic when Australia shut its borders a vital source of technical expertise was locked out of the country, making an already wide cyber skills gap even wider. With an international talent tap turned off and cyber threats increasing daily, the team knew a local solution was needed.  

The Deloitte Cyber Academy was the result.  A collaboration with Swinburne University, NSW TAFE and the University of Wollongong, the academy is focused on closing Australia’s cyber security skills gap through a unique industry, education and government co-designed program to develop the country’s smartest, sharpest, job-ready cyber talent. The Academy’s three-year degree includes an ‘earn as you learn’ apprenticeship program to fast-track students’ cyber security careers and combines blended study with employment at either a government department, an industry partner or Deloitte, which is committed to taking 10 per cent of program students. It’s a win-win for everyone. 

This experimental model can be emulated and presents many opportunities for education, industry and government to work together to solve societal problems and stay in step with current and future industry and workforce needs. 

With the ongoing challenges faced by the education sector and those of society, developing and nurturing these relationships is more important than ever. 

Another way to build these bonds is by putting universities smack bang in the heart of industry or making universities the heart of communities.  

Monash, Curtin and Western Sydney are just a few that are situated in highly developed innovation or industry precincts building communities of innovation within our cities for greater impact. In the regions, universities such as the University of New England, Charles Sturt University and Central Queensland University are often the towns’ largest employers. These communities whether urban or regional are tied together with their university and rely on them in many ways.  

When done well, partnerships and collaborations between industry and universities is demonstrably impactful for the ongoing innovation, growth and prosperity of the nation. But it’s not always straightforward and while there are many examples of great collaborations there’s plenty of untapped potential.  

To help bridge the gap we developed a simple and pragmatic toolkit. 

The Industry University Partnership Maturity Model (IUPMM) helps universities assess current capability and develop more mature industry/university partnerships. It’s based on our deep dive into research around university and industry partnerships in Australia. With the Wallis group, we surveyed 150 Australian business leaders and conducted in-depth interviews with a diverse range of university and business stakeholders.  

By focussing on the nature of industry and university partnerships today and what’s needed in the future, we look into why some relationships with industry work better than others, what we can learn from each other and how to enhance current practices.  

Drawing on our participants' experience and the resulting analysis, we have created a set of expectations and requirements for universities and industry to measure themselves against and benchmark their maturity to three high-level propositions. 

Proposition 1

Universities aren’t isolated from the communities they serve and have a hunger for knowledge-making and production, they also remain the natural partners to collaborate with industry and respond to the challenges our country faces for future economic growth and prosperity. However, our research demonstrated that businesses are more likely to partner with each other than a university around innovation, so it’s vital that universities build a bridge to help industry understand how powerful and mutually beneficial these partnerships can be. 

Proposition 2

It’s timely that universities and industry reframe their coexistence into a more productive discourse of co-dependence and learn how to work within the sometimes uncomfortable cultural fit. In a post-COVID era, Australia needs its universities and industry to work together to ensure future prosperity. It’s only then that Australia will lift its socio-economic potential – from being ranked last in the OECD for business collaboration on innovation with higher education and government institutions in 2016-17.  

Proposition 3

Governments and their policymakers can support and enable deeper and more productive collaborations and partnerships through incentivisation for both industry and universities. There are many options, such as driving the desired behaviours of universities and businesses to be even more productive and successful as partners to support Australia’s innovation and prosperity agenda. 

Find out more about our research by downloading our report 'Co-designing futures: Higher education and industry partnering for impact' to find out how you can forge closer relationships between universities and industry.