Closing the gap between business and education

Leading business bodies, ICT professionals, and leading economists agree: we need to worry more about education to create a business landscape that’s truly innovative and globally competitive.

Education offers a competitive advantage

Prior to the federal election in July, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry released its plan to ‘turbocharge’ Australia’s performance as a one of the most competitive nations for business.

Some of its key recommendations include implementing national minimum standards for literacy and numeracy for school leavers, and creating more opportunities for work placements for university students.

Earlier this year, the Economic Society of Australia asked a panel of 30 leading economists whether they believed spending on education would be better for economic growth in the long term than offering the same amount in the form of business tax cuts. More than 60 percent agreed.

Professor of Economics at Macquarie University Jeffrey Sheen asserts the benefit of education spending. “In general,” he said, “appropriate expenditure on education will deliver, and has delivered, significant technological improvements that enhances long-run economic growth and the standard of living.”

Innovation and growth relies on knowledge

As we face the fourth industrial revolution, only businesses and economies that can leverage innovation to quickly meet evolving market demands will prosper.

That requires closer connection between arenas where knowledge is gained, and where knowledge is applied, as well as ensuring education meets the need for workers with both deep content knowledge and broader skill sets.

The Australian Computer Society believes digital literacy—within schools, universities, and workplaces—is key to a successful transition to an economy based on services and knowledge-based industries.

To this end, the ACS advocates that universities and employers work more collaboratively, “to better match job opportunities with graduate competencies.”

Unfortunately, university-industry collaboration is not an area where Australia excels. It has been ranked poorly on this measure by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in the past.

What kind of education investment works?

Professor Ian Jacobs and Dr Kevin Cullen from the University of New South Wales say that high-quality collaborations between universities and business do make an enormous contribution to GDP, but the government must play a greater role in making engagement easier.

They argue the need for research and development tax incentives or ‘vouchers’ for business, and support for internships that, “would help us place many more of our brightest students into companies, bringing benefits for both.”

Queensland’s Chief Scientist, Dr Geoff Garrett said he felt buoyed by the fact that Australian political leaders are now actively talking about the importance of innovation.

“Scientists in academia and research organisations are generally keen to work with government and industry to keep the innovation conversation happening, and to help good research get applied,” he said.

Garrett said the existing appetite for greater collaboration between industry, research and education bodies needs to be supported by investment in order to translate into valuable new ideas and business opportunities.

As an example he points to Advance Queensland’s PhD scholarships, which support full-time PhD students whose work addresses one of Queensland’s science and research priorities. To be eligible, candidates must spend at least 50 percent of their PhD physically located within an industry or end-user organisation.

“While some questioned the requirement that such quality time be spent with end users,” explained Garrett, “a 34 percent increase in applications for Fellowships was actually the result. Creating a much bigger pool of industry-savvy researchers is what it’s all about.”

The role of business owners

Genuine relationships between business and education providers cannot occur unless the business community supports improved knowledge, innovation and industry-based learning—through policy, initiating partnerships, and being willing to take on apprentices, trainees and work placements.

Education builds future potential, enabling an environment where businesses can harvest good ideas, generate more valuable products and services, and pursue profitable new approaches more effectively.

 

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