Value creation through a Regional Strategy in Globalised Higher Education

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Australian universities should not ‘delay in owning and promoting a more compelling narrative’. Ann Brewer
Ann Brewer

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Reading Mark Leach’s “Assertive Relevance 101” in the AFR (27 Apr 2018) undoubtedly would strike a chord with many of us working in universities. What stood out was his call to arms, namely that Australian universities should not “delay in owning and promoting a more compelling narrative”.1

What universities are doing in, for and with their regions is a potentially compelling narrative if only universities could tell it effectively. Many of us have participated in numerous workshops, locally and internationally, discussing university linkages with cities and industries, including the NSW Business Chamber’s recent event on Innovation Precincts with Julie Wagner et al. Some of us may come away feeling somewhat frustrated due to the lack of time to delve into the issues which inhibit industries “leaning in” to their nearby universities and similarly, for universities to “reach out” to their cities and regions. Perhaps a debate based on all or some of the following questions might help to progress the narrative based on current and future projects?

The following is a brief ‘reflection and questions’ arising from the paper "Initiatives for University-Industry Transitions". Where to from here?

Regional strategy – a viable strategic response

A ‘regional’ strategy may be the ‘best available’ response:

  • for universities as they balance becoming global institutions and attracting high quality international students
  • as it enhances a university’s response to the pressures of becoming global while remaining local.

Universities as part of a global value chain of supply & demand, face disruption, primarily from Amazon2.

  • There is now a greater need for a more energetic connection between universities and their local and regional communities.
  • Regional initiatives create genuine strategic value, although this may not resonate with the global valuation process of rankings & global recognition that all universities seek.

Key Questions

  1. What is the role of universities in their own regions?
    • Are they primary producers of innovation in the regions?
    • Are they transmitters of innovation in the regions?
  2. Is a regional strategy an opportunity for university leaders to bolster:-
    • their position, and co-discover and co-create value beyond the accepted parameters of a university; as well as
    • capitalising on the benefits around them in their own regions with a focus on deriving local value.
  3. Do the ‘regions’, where universities are in situ, see universities as central or at least, relevant to their development strategies?
  4. Do industry and business leaders/managers in the public and private sectors in the regions see their university as a regional asset? If not, why not? Is it because, with some exceptions, research and knowledge development activities by universities in their regions are not central or worse, detached from regional development objectives, driven by the pursuit of peer-reviewed academic outputs?
  5. Does the teaching and learning of universities in the region reflect regional priorities, their industrial ambitions for the region, etc.? Regions depend on their local economies and businesses for continual growth and skills development. Often this is in decline due to lack of critical mass.

Engagement

  1. Have universities invested in ‘boundary spanning’ skills for its regional campuses?
    • Lack of valuable ‘spanning’ regional boundaries means that businesses find it difficult if not impossible to 'lean-in" to universities and by the same token, universities “to reach out” to them.
  2. Have universities provided suitable regional leadership and where they have, endorsed leaders to drive change?
    • This type of leadership is necessary as there is limited capacity within local businesses; lack of process to aggregate demand; lack of consensus on what the issues are and how to overcome them. There needs to be an active attempt to a shift from ‘transactional’ to ‘transformational’ programs, interventions and partnerships.

Funding

  1. Do universities concentrate their research in areas where research grants are easier to gain rather than in their regional priorities? If so, what can be done to capture this research potential?
    • There is a lack of capital for businesses to invest in R&D activities; short term funding cycles or no funding limits a university’s capacity to invest in ‘translational’ research in most disciplines other than health and science.

Remember to click on the article "Initiatives for University-Industry Transitions".

Footnotes

  1. Leach, M. (2018) “Assertive relevance 101” The Australian Financial Review, Friday 27 April: p. 3R.
  2. Galloway, S. (2017) The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Portfolio Penguin

First published . Last updated 25/09/2018. Disclaimer: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Newcastle and its employees.

About Ann Brewer

Professor Brewer is the Dean, University of Newcastle, Sydney. Her career has spanned organisational behaviour, psychology, education and business as a researcher, lecturer, and author. Her research expertise is people at work including conflict, change, leadership, commitment, stress as well as gender. Her work has been applied in diverse industry sectors such as business, education, industrial relations, human resource management, health administration, public policy, transport and logistics; banking and mining. She has led commercial facing entities including a start-up to success.

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