Friday, 5 June 2015

Interaction Between Industry & Higher Education

In 2002 as part of the work of the Business Higher Education Roundtable in Australia, I had the opportunity to contribute to work that was considering the fostering of links between universities and industry. I worked with colleagues from a number of other universities and produced a key report for distribution to universities and key industry partners. An extract from the report follows:

There is a significant and urgent challenge in Australia to set the scene for a steady transformation in industry/business-university relationship and interaction. This interaction needs to occur across the broad spectrum of industries and businesses and should not be restricted to “big business” or major industry sectors.

With all industries and businesses increasingly dependent on human resources in a knowledge-based economy, business will need to increasingly rely on universities which remain world class and diverse. Universities and business will need to cultivate mutually beneficial and lasting relationships with one another. In this emerging framework, robust high-quality, long-term relationships, based on two-way investments of time and resources, are becoming essential to understand, influence and improve the interactions between both sectors.

To forge ahead with this transformation universities will need to leave the campus and engage with industry. At the same time, industry and government can facilitate the development of close links with universities by venturing onto campus for regular discussion and exchange of views on matters related to the preparedness of graduates for the workforce, and collaborative research. Individual academic staff members will often engage with professions in industry, adopting leadership roles in professional bodies, undertaking commercial research or consultancy, and often volunteering to participate with industry and the professions in areas of mutual interest. This strategic partnering needs to be encouraged at organisational level, as well as around personal links.

The details of the report follow:

Belcher, R., Cairney, T.H,, English, B., Fischer, J. & Harding, S. (2002). Greater Involvement and Interaction Between Industry and Higher Education. Melbourne: Business Higher Education Roundtable.

The report can be downloaded HERE.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Towards a Learning Economy: A need for change in VET

Above: Image courtesy of Careers Online
In 2001 CRRI was funded by the NSW Board of Vocational Education & Training to complete a major research project on the needs of Technical and Further Education in NSW as world economies moved more and more down a path towards knowledge-driven enterprises.

The project was led by Professor Trevor Cairney & Dr Liz Sommerlad from CRRI at the University of Western Sydney.

The research project was commissioned and funded by the NSW Board of Vocational Education and Training. It sought to extend understanding of the impact of the knowledge-based economy on the nature of work and training.

The project was called 'The changing nature of work and the emergence of the knowledge-based economy: The implications for vocational education and training of the demands of the emerging knowledge-based economy' was a project that examined the changes being brought to work and training with the growth of technology and knowlege-based industries.  

It involved an analysis of the ways in which the emerging knowledge-based economy impacts on the content of work, the knowledge and skill requirements of occupations and of work in different parts of various industries. It also considered the extent to which the current VET system meets the requirements of the knowledge-based economy.  The project was funded to the Centre for Regional Research & Innovation (CRRI) with 2 partners providing 10% of the work - the Centre forResearch and Learning in Regional Australia (UTAS) and the TAFE NSW IndustryPartnership Centre.  Funding of $159,200 has been provided to CRRI by the NSW Board of Vocational Education & Training.

The research team set out to analyse the ways in which the emerging knowledge-based economy impacts on the content of work. In particular its concerns were with the knowledge and skill requirements of occupations and of work in different parts of various industries, and the extent to which the current VET system meets the requirements of the knowledge-based economy. The project was shaped by the following questions that were part of the original project brief from BVET:
1. What is the extent and speed of changes in the type and level of knowledge and skill
required in a range of industry sectors, occupational areas and organisational sizes?

2. To what extent is work and the need for training being changed by the growth of the
knowledge economy, and the employment implications of the knowledge-based

3. What impact have changes in the nature of work had on VET provision and its
intersection with general education? How can it best meet the needs of individuals
and organisations, and how well is the VET system adapting to and anticipating in
these changes?

The project commenced with a review of key literature before embarking on a series of 3 stages designed to provide an emerging understanding of the way knowledge is used and privileged in industry and business. These three stages incorporated analysis of existing ABS data using proxies for knowledge and innovation, a major survey of organizations across 4 industry sectors, case studies of individuals, organizations and institutions, and systems analysis of knowledge-based organizations.

This research project established that the nature of work is indeed changing. In fact, it appears that the very shape of industry is being altered as we witness a period of economic change that has emphasised new forms of knowledge as well as changed priorities for knowledge and skill acquisition and use. Technological innovation and access to knowledge and skills are key drivers of innovation in this ‘new age’, and their application has become central to the competitive strategy of firms. On the basis of our findings we argue in our final report that successful and self sustaining cities and regions in the 21st century will be those that are best at linking businesses to the global economy.

Our review of research also showed that the view within the literature is that more than ever, business strategy, innovation, learning and training are closely integrated. What this requires is a training sector that leads instead of follows. It also requires a VET sector that is characterised by innovative learning organisations networked regionally, nationally and globally. There were many special implications in this report for TAFE, an organisation that was seeking to re-position itself within a training sector that has undergone great change.

When we completed the project in 2002 it seemed to the research team that there were three alternative pathways facing the TAFE sector. It could do nothing and watch its market  being increasingly eroded by private providers and industry-based training. It could become even better at responding to industry needs and reform existing programs to better reflect industry needs. Or finally, it could work in partnership with government, the broad VET system and industry to position itself as a key partner in industry-based reform, technology renewal, and regional and industry innovation.

While at the time of this research it was clear that Australia’s VET sector was internationally competitive, our research findings pointed to a need for change and re-positioning. The role of VET globally was, and is still, under review as governments attempted to work out the best use of elaborate and expensive training systems. BVET had an opportunity to take the best of the current VET system and to try to reform it to take a leading role in working with other partners to position NSW business and industry in an even more competitive position. Sadly our report was not released and the recommendations were never to our knowledge addressed.

Our study highlighted the importance of an internationally competitive VET system to Australia’s future and identified 4 major challenges, each of which presented the sector with significant opportunities:
  • The VET sector has a key role to play in increasing the level of competitiveness and innovation in Australian industry.
  • The diversification of industry is creating the need for new forms of training provision.
  • Changes in technology are creating significant challenges and opportunities for the
    VET sector.
  • In the emerging knowledge-based economy there is an increased need for VET providers to explore new forms of industry collaboration and partnership.
You can read a short version of our full report HERE.

The full report was never made available by BVET but can be provided for interested readers.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Developing a Smart City

This 'Smart City' project was funded by the NSW Department of Information Technology & Management (DITM) in association with NSW Department of State and Regional Development (now NSW Trade & Investment). The project was administered through the Hunter Economic Development Corporation (HEDC) and the Central Coast Economic Development Board (CCEDB) and was completed in 2002. The Centre for Regional Research & Innovation (CRRI) previously housed at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) was contracted to complete the work.

The project was assisted by an advisory committee made up of the following members:
  • Hunter Economic Development Corporation, Eddie Bernard/ Darren Turner. 
  • Central Coast Economic Development Board, Peter Brown.
  • Connect.CentralCoast, David Abrahams.
  • New South Wales Department of State and Regional Development, Alison Pepper
  • HunterTech, Peter O’Malley.
  • Office of Information Technology, Mark Nicholson.

The CRRI team was Professor Trevor Cairney, Gavin Speak & Rob Lee.

The project was commissioned in order to obtain knowledge to help position the Hunter and Central Coast regions more competitively in the global economy. The study sought to determine the ‘ICT Capacity’ of the Hunter and Central Coast regions and offer recommendations for strategy development designed to enhance this capacity. It addressed:
  • Industry use of ICT hardware, software and infrastructure in the 2 regions 
  • The importance of ICT to the regions’ economic bases
  • The regions’ competitive advantages, strengths and weaknesses 
  • The impediments to growth of ICT
  • Key factors for ICT business relocation or service provision
  • The issues that need to be tackled to ensure competitive advantage

The findings of the study sought to:
a) contribute to the development of an ICT strategy for the regions act as a baseline to compare industry change and trends; 
b) help to market the ICT goods and services within both regions and to promote and attract investment into the regions, resulting in job creation

At the core of this study were 4 focus questions:

FQ1 What is the state of existing knowledge of the ICT Capacity of the two regions?
FQ2 What are the key issues for users and producers of ICT in the two regions? 
FQ3 What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two regions with respect to ICT capacity?
FQ4 What strategies are suitable to stimulate ICT capacity in the two regions?

In addressing these focus questions, the project was conducted in 3 basic stages:

Stage 1 An analysis of published reports and existing statistical data 
Stage 2 The gathering of primary evidence from respondents located within the two study regions Stage 3 The analysis of data and the development of strategies and actions

The first part of the primary data collected was completed through an industry survey of a sample of firms in the two regions.

The interview/ focus group sample list was a group of key regional business or government representatives who were judged to be aware of regional issues and the ICT industry generally.

The research was conducted as an iterative process with constant and open communications between the CRRI research team and the project steering committee. The summary report of the project can be downloaded HERE and the full report HERE.

The Knowedge-Based Economy: A review of the literature

This is an extract from a report written by Trevor Cairney, Liz Sommerlad & Chris Owen (2002) for the  
Board of Vocational Education and Training (NSW) in 2002. 
The full review is available HERE.

There is no universally accepted definition of the knowledge based economy. As a concept, it is very loosely employed and embraces a number of quite different visions of the economy and society.

One view, most evident in OECD publications, sees it as very much bound up with the high skills/high performance/high value added scenario as the only way for firms to compete in a globalised economy.

Another view, found principally in the scientific and technical community, tends to view it more narrowly as applying to knowledge intensive industries where knowledge itself is the core competence. The latter is typically found in software and internet companies, computer hardware and chip manufacturers, computer and electronic equipment sectors, and health care technology.

A third view, the one adopted in this review, is that all sectors of industry are becoming more knowledge intensive in the very broad sense of that term. Knowledge is seen as a potential generator of productivity improvements in areas as diverse as quality, customer service, variety, speed and technical improvement, as well as innovation in products, processes and organisational structure and behaviour. As companies alter the way their organisations are structured (flatter, non-hierarchical, team based, multiskilled) in order to compete more effectively, so too workers have needed to obtain a more complex range of cognitive and intellectual resources.

This research project sought to extend our understanding of the impact of the knowledge based economy on the content of work and training. It set out to do this by acknowledging multiple perspectives on how economies grow and by embracing new definitions of skills, knowledge and training that reflect recent research. In this project, a knowledge based economy was defined as one that is increasingly dependent for its growth on the input of knowledge as a value-added input to the economic system. This is reflected in a change in the basis of ‘competitiveness’ for economies, organisations and individuals. This is realised in four interrelated ways.

1. First, such economies experience a changing structure exemplified by new industries, occupations and organisational arrangements.

2. Second, there is a change in the types of skills required, with a rise in the importance of generic skills, including the ability of individuals to work more autonomously; be self-managing, work as part of flexible teams, adapt to change, solve complex problems, think creatively and engage with innovation as a continuous process.

3. Third the economy requires new forms of knowledge and places increased importance on the creation and application of knowledge in networks or clusters of companies/enterprises, and within ‘communities of practice’ where workers are required to work together in new and more complex ways.

4. Fourth, innovation becomes more important as a means to increase economic competitiveness, and knowledge management becomes increasingly the key to sustainable competitive advantage, requiring individuals, firms, regions and indeed complete economies to acquire, create and use knowledge as the key productive resource.

Since the 1960s there has been a growing awareness of the decline of the importance of the control of resources for wealth creation, the emerging dominance of specialist knowledge and competencies, as well as the management of organisational competencies and knowledge.

If you'd like to read more on this topic you can download the full review HERE.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Industry Use of High Performance Computing

CRRI won a grant from the Federal Government in 2001 to investigate the potential of High Performance Computing as a driver of technology industries in the city of Penrith on the fringe of Sydney NSW Australia. A precinct was created linked to the facilities of the Australian Centre for Advanced Computing and Communications (ac3). Funding of $253,000 was provided by the Federal Department of Workplace

Above: Image courtesy of the Centre for HPC, University of Southern California

Relations and Small Business (responsibility subsequently transferred to the Department of Infrasctructure and Regional Development). The summary report - “Transforming Penrith’s High Performance Computing Node into an Innovation Precinct” can be downloaded HERE.

The research aimed to investigate the scope for local business for the use of a High Performance Computing (HPC) Node located on the University of WesternSydney (UWS) Penrith campus.

The Penrith HPC Node was one of 4 ‘regional access nodes’ to a central supercomputing facility at ac3 in Redfern at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney. The ac3 facility was part of the Australian Program for Advanced Computing network. This was a national network of ‘centres of excellence’ in advanced computing. The relationship between the Penrith Node, the ac3 facility and APAC was foundational to the Penrith centre that was evaluated.

This research explored the nature of the business needs first, so that the design of the Node facility could accurately respond to local need and help to stimulate future business potential.