Business Council sets a course to RUN

“You are critical to the future of your communities, and their ability to prosper in a changing world,” Jennifer Westacott told the Regional Universities Network conference on Friday

The Business Council of Australia chief put RUN universities at the centre of the national skills and research debates and how they can combine.

On skills: One of the appealing things about regional universities is their focus on their students, on employment outcomes and on the needs of their communities,” Ms Westacott said, but she warned universities in general aren’t always good at, “supporting up-skilling and re skilling for people later in their careers who are looking to switch jobs, re-enter the workforce or upgrade their skills within a job.”

And she presented this as an opportunity for RUN members. “One of the essential ingredients for any place to thrive is an existing university that can work with a TAFE to provide the skills and training people need throughout their lives.  Regional skills models need to be part of a broader strategy to grow regional economies.

“The government will only treat universities with value if they can see value – and that’s where you come in. You are critical to the future of your communities, and their ability to prosper in a changing world. “

On research: “there is great potential for regional universities to have an outsized impact as research catalysts. They work better with strong connections with local industry, leveraging strengths and aligning with national priorities including in: agriculture, clean energy, and regional health.  …Physical proximity helps make connections and build trust, which is hard to do remotely. That’s why we are big supporters of innovation and investment precincts that bring universities together with businesses large and small.”

What RUN needs to do: Ms Westacott suggested regional universities need to do three things * rethink training and tailor it to industry, * rethink incentives to drive commercialisation and * “coordinate on an unprecedented scale.” … Australia is too small to have everyone being a centre for excellence in the same things.”

And she offered an alternative to cooperation, “you compete with each other, not to drive innovation, but to survive.”