Across the world governments and universities have been working to develop a new model of the PhD that aligns more with national industrial, economic and social goals. Australia is now taking steps on the same path, its latest move being the release of new guidelines designed to enable and support partnerships between university graduate researchers and business and industry.

The guides – titled Enhancing industry university engagement – are the result of a collaboration between The Australian Council of Graduate Research and the Australian Industry Group. One guide is aimed at universities, the second at business and industry.

They are designed to “assist both universities and industry partners to realise the substantial short-term and long-term benefits that can be gained from graduate research student-industry engagement”.

Industry placements for PhD students and flexibility for graduate training were two key recommendations of a review of Australia’s research training system by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).

The guidelines for universities note that industry-university engagement can take various forms – from those involving an individual academic to whole of institution, and may involve both coursework and/or research.

Industry “end-users” could include those with a well-developed understanding of universities “to those where there is very little knowledge … especially in relation to graduate researchers and their capabilities”.


Good working relationship

To establish a good working relationship with industry it is essential “that the university provides a clear description of the way in which industry engagement is managed and the points of contact and processes relating to development of placements/projects and management of agreements”.

Once contact is made the research challenge “can then be scoped and developed into a project with the relevant university academic supervisor and student”.

The university and industry partner would need to establish and understand the requirements and expectations of each organisation during the project, “including the support, supervision and mentoring for the graduate researcher by the host organisation”.


Mutual understanding of expectations

The outcomes for the graduate research student, and how they can be linked to their degree, should also be made clear.

“A good starting point in industry university engagement is to determine the type of interaction that would suit the industry partner and be appropriate for the proposed project.”

In creating a project with industry it is critical “that a mutual understanding of expectations is developed”, it says.

The university should develop an understanding of the nature of the industry research challenge and help “craft a project plan that fits the capabilities of a graduate researcher and the needs of the industry partner”.

The industry partner should also be reminded “that graduate researchers are students and that the principal purpose of the project is educational even though there can be collateral advantages to the industry partner”.

It should also be recognised that industry has a business imperative and “that the university will make every effort to ensure that the graduate researchers understand these expectations”.

The guide for industry notes that it benefits from graduate research students “who can develop joint research programs that enhance business performance, develop innovative solutions to industry problems and produce commercial outcomes”.


The most flexible cohort

The students also represent “the most flexible cohort through which research collaborations can develop” as they can be involved in research with industry through their entire candidature or for more discrete periods via placement or internship.

Benefits of engaging with graduate research students can include:

  • impetus for new thinking, ideas and research
  • research solutions for challenges facing the organisation or the whole industry
  • working on short-term projects, allowing flexibility for others in the organisation
  • collaboration with academic supervisors who have other specialist knowledge
  • additional skill sets brought to the organisation
  • improvement in broader employee engagement and workplace culture, and
  • building of the talent pipeline to assist with future recruitment.


Contribute significantly to innovation

ACGR Convenor Professor Sue Berners-Price said  graduate research candidates represented a rich talent pool – “possessing the knowledge, intellectual abilities, technical capabilities and professional standards to work on and solve industry-defined problems”.

“Linking candidates with industry partners can provide career development for students, build workforce capacity and enhance innovation,” she said.

​Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox said greater involvement by graduate research students in industry could contribute significantly to innovation.

“These research candidates can apply specialised cognitive, technical and research skills to provide creative solutions to challenging problems,” he said.

“The relationships established through graduate research engagements enable closer, mutually beneficial connections between industry and universities at a time when the pace of change in industry is requiring new approaches to education and training.”

Read the guidelines in full here.


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