Shared GoalsThird Mission Activities

University – Industry Collaborations: Gaining Impact and Driving Valuable Outcomes

There is no doubt that employers rely on higher education providers to deliver qualified and skilled employees. It is also true that universities rely on industry to support the making of a more skilled and entrepreneurial minded workforce. For the best fit to occur between input and output (graduates), the two parties should be clearly and regularly communicating their expectations with each other.
Written by Nita Temmerman

Universities and industry have been collaborating for well over one hundred years. The principal nature of these collaborations has generally been research focused, where industry has provided funding for university researchers to tackle strategic projects that drive industry innovation, development and/or contribute to economic growth.

However, universities working collaboratively with industry yields benefits that extend beyond financial support for research development. Yet, collaboration between industry and higher education is still a rather contentious issue for some in the university sector. There is a cultural divide between how universities and industry operate, think and behave. Despite this there is general acknowledgement that each party brings important complementary knowledge, expertise and perspectives and as long as there is mutual benefit there is worth in continuing such collaborations.

Recent global events have meant educational institutions, as important agents of transformation, are doing a lot more thinking about what they do, how they intend to operate and with whom, into the future. There is no doubt that adaptations will need to continue to be made to ensure they can effectively meet the new realities.

Learners are also increasingly appreciating that gaining a good education is about much more than preparation for a single job. In the current climate, it seems reasonable to assume that some will face the need to (re)train or upskill as they confront unemployment and/or a forced job change. They expect that their education will be durable and transferable and equip them with broadly based skills, professional-discipline specific knowledge, values and understandings. They want the credentials they earn to meet at least two goals, namely to prepare them for employment and as a solid grounding for further studies they wish or now need to pursue.

A central component of a productivity growth strategy for any society is to develop the skill base of its workforce. A prosperous economy relies on a skilled and educated workforce. Today’s economies more than ever are less based on physical capital and more on ideas development. Young people need to be presented with a curriculum that strengthens their preparation for living and working and positioning the course of action in a progressively more multifaceted, fast altering and globally interdependent world.

Today’s economies more than ever are less based on physical capital and more on ideas development.

Employers want job ready employees with the requisite relevant knowledge as well as skill sets to ‘hit the ground running’. Education therefore has to be about producing individuals with analytical and creative minds capable of applying and creating new knowledge. It has to be about engaging young people in learning, which is durable, transferable and broad ranging, but also appropriate for the real world. It has to be about equipping them with broadly based graduate skills that sit comfortably alongside professional-discipline specific knowledge, values and understandings.

Universities everywhere should be graduating professionals who are capable of formulating solutions to predictable as well as new problems in their chosen field. Graduates everywhere should have the skills, knowledge and understanding to be able to decide what information is required, how to locate that information from a diversity of sources, how to interpret and critique as well as synthesize that information. They need to be able to make convincing judgments based on comprehensive evaluations, think creatively about possible innovative solutions and know how to effectively communicate those findings. These are the qualities that employers are increasingly looking for and that society will ultimately benefit from.

Universities everywhere should be graduating professionals who are capable of formulating solutions to predictable as well as new problems in their chosen field.

The ultimate aim, if universities expect to contribute to the innovation agenda of any country via their graduates, is to ensure the academic programs being delivered are contemporary, research informed and include a balance of theoretical knowledge along with useful, hands-on practical (vocational) know-how. Further, that these programs provide authentic opportunity for creative individual and team-based problem solving based on real problems from business/industry/society that build students’ research skills, encourage initiative, foster analytical capacity, and effective use of various technologies along with a global outlook.

Mutually advantageous partnerships between universities and industry can produce impressive research and innovation to answer difficult questions and help propel economic growth. Such collaborations can also foster the development of meaningful programs of study and associated teaching and learning. They create opportunities for work placements and internships with industry for students. Authentic engagement helps ensure students are work ready and in turn connects industry with graduates for employment.

In the current climate more than ever it will be important to be responsive to new ideas due to changes occurring in some professions as well as in industry and business, which may necessitate quick action in redesigning or adding new programs brought on by workplace, social and economic shifts. Both universities and industry benefit from close collaboration and ultimately the benefits including developing workforce capability, advancing innovative ideas and providing solutions to industry problems, flow to the broader society.


University-industry Third Mission collaboration

About the author

Nita Temmerman
International Higher Education Consultant

Nita Temmerman (PhD; MEd (Hons); BEd; BMus; ATCL; MACE) has held senior University positions in Australia including Pro Vice Chancellor Academic Quality, Pro Vice Chancellor International Partnerships and Executive Dean. She is an independent higher education consultant and invited professor to universities in Australia, the Pacific region, SE Asia and the Middle East and Academic Board Chair for 3 private higher education institutions. Nita is also an invited accreditation specialist with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic & Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ), and international associate with the Center for Learning Innovations & Customized Knowledge Solutions (Dubai). Projects draw on expertise in organisational strategic planning, quality assurance, academic accreditation and reaccreditation, higher education policy development and review, teacher education and curriculum design and evaluation. Nita has published 14 books, over 70 scholarly papers, conducted numerous presentations in SE Asia, Middle East, Pacific, UK and USA and remains an active contributor to several education publications.

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