Time to create universities of applied sciences?
A new vision for Australia’s public TAFEs could deliver the skills and applied research linked to industry and business urgently needed to transition the economy.
The question for Australia’s future economy isn’t so much about where we are going, but how do we get there, and how do we take people with us?
Whether we are ready or not, our economy is transitioning away from its reliance on mining and traditional manufacturing, into a technology and innovation driven future focused on services and high-tech industries. In the five years from 2006 to 2011, firms less than three years old created 1.4 million jobs while employment in mature businesses dropped by 400,000.
The future, as they say, is already here.
European countries are turning to universities focused on applied research and establishing innovation hubs to help drive their economies into the future Picture: Rob Lambert/Unsplash
To transition successfully Australia needs to take a logical and urgent look at how our tertiary education institutions collaborate, and consider transforming public TAFEs into what Europe calls Universities of Applied Sciences.
TAFEs are already at the centre of where skill development meets industry needs, but they are hampered by the reluctance of policy makers to capitalise on and fund their latent capacity to provide research and development and problem-solving solutions for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that dominate our economy.
CONNECTING SKILLS TO INNOVATION
TAFEs are also hamstrung by having to follow training packages. Training packages are too cumbersome and narrowly focused on specific vocations as opposed to broad vocational fields. TAFEs need the flexibility of being self-accrediting for their courses, equivalent to universities.
What we need are new institutions to connect skills and industry to the applied research and innovation on which Australia’s future depends.
Government funding shortfalls have driven our higher education and vocational education institutions to become transactional commercial providers of education to international and domestic students. In contrast, other countries have focused on the contribution their integrated systems make to knowledge generation, innovation, application, and national and regional productivity.
In a rapidly transforming global economy, innovation is now best described as a network, that recognises and values the role and contribution of both higher education and higher vocational education.
Recent missions to Canada and the Netherlands have allowed senior education and government leaders from Australia to see first-hand how tertiary education institutions have created real economic growth.
In Europe, new networks like Novel-T and Brainport in the Netherlands and Polihubin Italy, capitalise on pure and applied research. They use the talent of staff and students to form cross-disciplinary research groups in open innovation models with spin-offs, start-ups and established businesses. Brainport is now considered the third pillar of the Dutch economy, equally as important as the international shipping port at Rotterdam and the international airport at Amsterdam.
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