Herald Sun

David Cruick­shanks-Boyd on fos­ter­ing a knowl­edge boom

- DAVID CRUICK­SHANKS-BOYD Dr David Cruick­shanks-Boyd is na­tional pres­i­dent of Engi­neers Aus­tralia

AUS­TRALIA, now is the time for us to move from an econ­omy based on mines to one based on minds.

Our higher de­gree science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (STEM) grad­u­ates are Aus­tralia’s next great re­source boom.

Not only do they pos­sess a great wealth of knowl­edge in their area but they are ex­perts in crit­i­cal think­ing, prob­lem solv­ing and in­no­va­tion.

These are the skills and knowl­edge Aus­tralia needs to be­come a com­pet­i­tive, in­no­va­tive, knowl­edge-based econ­omy of the fu­ture.

This sen­ti­ment is one shared by Chief Sci­en­tist Prof Ian Chubb, and forms the ba­sis of the Gov­ern­ment’s Vi­sion for Science pa­per, cur­rently open to con­sul­ta­tion.

Engi­neers Aus­tralia is a strong sup­porter of the pa­per’s fo­cus on bet­ter con­nect­ing in­dus­try and univer­si­ties as we be­lieve this is where Aus­tralia can get the most “bang for our buck”.

Engi­neers have a vested in­ter­est in so­lid­i­fy­ing in­dus­try links with univer­si­ties.

More than just be­ing the “E” in STEM, en­gi­neer­ing is the prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion of science and math­e­mat­ics to solve real world prob­lems.

Engi­neers rely on the univer­sity sec­tor’s ba­sic re­search to in­form and in­spire our so­lu­tions to ev­ery­day prob­lems.

While there is much talk of need­ing more STEM grad­u­ates to ful­fil Aus­tralia’s fu­ture, our prob­lem is not just one of quan­tity but of dis­tri­bu­tion.

There is an as­sump­tion in Aus­tralia that those who pur­sue higher ed­u­ca­tion to a PhD level will stay in academia for good.

In most in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries more than 70 per cent of re­searchers are em­ployed in in­dus­try.

Aus­tralia lags with only 30 per cent — we have one of the low­est num­bers of re­searchers ap­ply­ing their skills in the pri­vate sec­tor in the de­vel­oped world.

With fierce com­pe­ti­tion for shrink­ing gov­ern­ment re­search funds, our STEM PhD grad­u­ates must look be­yond the lab and into the mar­ket­place.

At the heart of the im­bal­ance be­tween academia and in­dus­try is the sig­nif­i­cant cul­tural dis­con­nect that forms the cen­tre of each of the two worlds. In the com­mer­cial world, you patent then pub­lish. In the aca­demic world you pub­lish first, which of­ten pre­cludes you from patent­ing at all.

This out­look means aca­demics of­ten strug­gle to com­mer­cialise their re­search.

And who can blame them — it isn’t easy nav­i­gat­ing the le­gal minefield of com­mer­cial patents, while writ­ing for aca­demic jour­nals to meet univer­sity met­rics.

Academia and in­dus­try can no longer be dis­crete en­ti­ties, but must form part of a commercial­isation con­tin­uum.

Aus­tralia’s fu­ture econ­omy will only be as strong as the ties we form be­tween in­dus­try and academia to­day.

As­so­ci­a­tions and not-for­prof­its have an im­por­tant role to play as the con­duit be­tween the ter­tiary sec­tor and in­dus­try.

For ex­am­ple, Engi­neers Aus­tralia is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pi­lot In­dus­try Men­tor­ing Net­work in STEM, which con­nects sec­ond-year PhD stu­dents with in­dus­try men­tors, and ac­tively pro­motes in­dus­try-based learn­ing pro­grams run by univer­si­ties in Vic­to­ria and across Aus­tralia.

Univer­si­ties need to foster stronger con­nec­tions with in­dus­try to en­sure grad­u­ates have the mix of skills in­dus­try re­quires and to en­sure stu­dents get prac­ti­cal in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence.

This is par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent in en­gi­neer­ing where many de­grees have an “on the job” com­po­nent and Engi­neers Aus­tralia’s univer­sity ac­cred­i­ta­tion pro­gram re­quires univer­si­ties to reach out to in­dus­try and forge these con­nec­tions.

In­dus­try needs to work with univer­si­ties to en­sure the op­por­tu­ni­ties are avail­able for STEM stu­dents to be­come the work-ready grad­u­ates em­ploy­ers need.

Stronger ties be­tween the two sec­tors will also al­low in­dus­try to bet­ter iden­tify re­search with com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions and in­form re­search di­rec­tion to­wards ar­eas of in­dus­try need.

Aus­tralia needs cre­ative thinkers to have the big ideas — the STEM in­tel­lects whose “aha” mo­ment will be the next Wi-Fi, the next Cochlear im­plant or the next clean energy source. Aus­tralia also needs the com­mer­cial knowhow to make these ideas a re­al­ity, to bring them out of univer­si­ties and into the wider world where so­ci­ety can ben­e­fit from them.

We need univer­si­ties and we need in­dus­try, but what we re­ally need is for them to work to­gether.

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