Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has set the challenge: universities must find ways to drive more industry collaboration and help build the nation’s innovative businesses.
And the UNSW Faculty of Engineering is answering the call, launching a slate of Industry Research Fellowships that will open its amassed brainpower, multi-million dollar labs and facilities to researchers from industry seeking to improve products, overcome obstacles and solve challenges.
“It takes two to tango. The best place for us to start is to make it easier for industry to engage with UNSW, and show what we can offer.”
In total, 25 UNSW Engineering Industry Research Fellowships are being offered in what is thought to be Australia’s first such program, modelled on successful initiatives in the U.S. and Germany.
“The purpose is to bring people who work in industry closer to the research that happens in universities, and improve the two-way communication for the development of technology,” said Mark Hoffman, Dean of Engineering at UNSW.
“When researchers at university design projects, they often don’t have a strong knowledge of what industry needs. Similarly, industry doesn’t always have a full understanding of the capability within universities. So if we can have people from industry actually working alongside our researchers and students, both sides can better understand the technologies needed and partner in their development,” he added.
Industry Fellows can spend up to six months on campus full time, or up to a year part-time. Once completed, fellows can apply to renew, extend or continue their projects. During their stay, Industry Fellows will have access to UNSW research expertise and facilities to work on projects, or collaborate with UNSW researchers to transfer knowledge to industry or products to market.
By ‘embedding’ industry staff in the university, UNSW Engineering hopes to foster and further grow its impressive research engagement between the faculty and business in ways that will accelerate the development of technologies that can reach commercial application.
While UNSW in general – and UNSW Engineering in particular – leads Australia in collaboration with industry, “it is not as impressive when we compare ourselves to the global leaders of engineering and technology research,” Hoffman said. “We can do better, and initiatives like this will help.”
This was recently highlighted by the Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2015 released by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), which found that Australia ranked 29th out of 30 in business-university collaboration.
"If we can have people from industry working alongside our researchers and students, both sides can better understand the technologies needed and partner in their development."
Hoffman acknowledged that the road runs both ways: business needs to connect with universities as much as universities need to connect with business, and that corporate Australia needs a mindset that sees universities as partners – which has historically not been the case.
“It takes two to tango,” Hoffman said. “The best place for us to start is to make it easier for industry to engage with UNSW, and show what we can offer.”
Applications are now open, and close on Wednesday 2 December 2015.