22 November 2021

AUTHOR: UNISA VICE CHANCELLOR PROFESSOR DAVID LLOYD

We don’t get many chances to sit back and take stock but a global pandemic will give you that opportunity. And so, balancing the drama and the hardship of the past two years, for many of us came the chance to rethink, re-calibrate and re-imagine the future.

Universities have, for thousands of years, been the makers and sharers of knowledge. By their very name – universitas – they were groups of like-minded people associated into one body. Insular, self-regulating and self-perpetuating.

This was a model that worked well when the sons of rich and powerful men needed preparation in footstep following. And notwithstanding wars, famine and plague, life was pretty much ordered to replicate dynasties throughout the ages.

Australia never had much of a chance to develop moribund learning institutions. In 1881, a mere 30 years after it opened its wrought-iron gates, Australia’s oldest university, Sydney, already one of the world’s few non-denominational secular universities, was also one of the first universities in the world to admit women who were taught as equals of men. Radical.     

There are now 40 Australian universities and while they’re often known by their generic name ‘the sector,’ they defy the homogenous tag that’s often given them. Some are old and traditional. Some are the stalwarts of their rural and regional towns. Some tend towards exclusivity, others spread the opportunity for advancement to low SES students who are often first in family to give themselves a better education with all the opportunities that brings.

And none of those 40 universities would presume to know all that there is to know (although you might find some faculty members who disagree with that sentiment).

You’ll hear all sorts of arguments that universities have become jobs factories, signalling the end of knowledge for the sake of knowing. They are not jobs factories. Instead, the information they create and teach is used by the community for everything from health and education, to food supplies; it is used to build wealth for the economy by creating expertise in industry and the professions. It is used to teach future professionals in all of those industries.

So it makes sense to get as close to the community and the economy as it’s possible to get to build and share the knowledge that both have.

The University of South Australia is Australia’s University of Enterprise. We have just celebrated our 30th year but we have an extensive history of collaborations with industry and the professions that goes back to our founding institutions.

Being young and agile has definite benefits. We can pivot. We can look at the present and see room for improvement. We can look into the future and prepare to meet it head on. But more than anything, we are open to conversations with our industry partners about their needs and are willing to do whatever we can to help.

Our partnership with Accenture (read the story) is a good example. They are a world leading global professional services company; the kind of company that advises the world’s leading-edge companies, from corporate giants to startups, in how to better their business.

The landscape for business is changing rapidly and skills shortages are being felt across the globe. In partnership with Accenture, UniSA decided to shake-up business education, delivering the best of what they do and the best of what we do to produce the kinds of employees that they, and their clients, need into the future. Our partnership in the new Innovation Academy in Digital Business will deliver a new breed of business professional, taught by UniSA’s proven leadership in transformative business education and research, and informed by best practice and insight from one of the world’s leading technology strategic consulting companies.

Universities can no longer think that theirs is the only input of value. Ivory towers and ivied walls can hide an awful lot of arrogance. Unencumbered by towers, UniSA has always rolled up our sleeves to collaborate with our partners in industry – so far we have more than 2500 – which has helped us forge new knowledge that we pass on to our students and offer our partners new business building opportunities.

So, we’re not simply part of a ‘sector’. We’re in the business of producing human capital and through that helping create economic growth, productivity, and profitability. That’s a public good if ever there was one.