25 June 2021

AUTHOR: UNISA VICE CHANCELLOR PROFESSOR DAVID LLOYD

Search as hard as you might but you will find no ivory towers at the University of South Australia. We tend more towards metal cladding, sometimes even tiles. Useful, practical and easy to work with. Just like us.

We’ve always been like that. From our earliest years in 1856 when the South Australian School of Art began offering culture to newly arrived South Australians, we responded to the needs of our community. They needed teachers, we opened a teachers' college. As engineering, mining and agriculture looked for educated workers, our School of Mines and Industries supplied the solution. Those solutions weren’t flashy and expensive; they were practical and sometimes enormously life-changing. An alumnus of this school, Alfred Traeger, invented a small, cheap, durable and easy-to-use pedal wireless that not only created a communications revolution in the outback, but made possible the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

That ethos to serve the needs of the community was a major motivation when the University of South Australia was established in 1991 and we are still educating the community and finding solutions to their problems.

Ivory towers can be intimidating. We never built high walls around our campuses, ivy-covered or not, for the same reason. We’re open and welcoming. People walk through our campuses every day; they eat at our cafes and use our facilities. They visit our galleries and enjoy our public lectures. They are an integral part of our UniSA community and we have a responsibility to them to create the new industries and the new jobs that will build our economy and help keep our best and brightest close to home.

We take our commitment to the community very seriously. But we have further to go and to be more effective we need to keep our focus outwards. We need to share our intellectual capacity and capability by creating an environment where that know-how is as accessible as it is useful. The partnerships that we build will be at the forefront of innovation and revised economic activity.

We have already de-siloed our teaching and research, creating fertile ground for those breakthrough ideas in between disciplines.

We are in the process of creating open campuses where our experts and those from industry and other institutions can collaborate.

Universities can no longer think that theirs is the only input of value. Ivory towers and ivied walls can hide an awful lot of arrogance. Unencumbered by towers, UniSA has always rolled up our sleeves to collaborate with our partners in industry – so far we have more than 2500 – which has helped us forge new knowledge that we pass on to our students and offered our partners new business building opportunities.

Our mission is about to be supercharged with a brand new initiative, UniSA’s Enterprise Hub. It’s the prototype of a new kind of university think tank, a creative ecosystem of researchers, business and industry who all contribute their expertise to find solutions for problems and create new opportunities for growth. 

The Enterprise Hub is a place to share resources, a collaborative environment which can help develop startups, revise existing businesses and propose new ideas. A hub that can take on challenges that are too big, perhaps too expensive, for just one entity to handle. It’s open to anyone with a problem to solve or a new idea to commercialise and we’ll make it easy for people who want to work with us to get the University’s full attention across whatever disciplines they need.

In Australia, universities are undertaking a growing share of the nation’s research (up to 34 per cent and growing), and UniSA has a great track record. We are Australia’s Number 1 university for industry research income and take Australia’s top billing for research impact and engagement.

In full swing, the Enterprise Hub will attract a young, mobile and diverse talent pool of graduate student researchers, entrepreneurs, engineers, company researchers, venture capitalists, designers and others who see potential and have the courage to act on it. It will drive that collaboration into the marketplace and open opportunities to develop the commercial potential of research, support startups, scaleups and business regeneration; and build our economy by providing access to investment opportunities in UniSA’s spin-out companies.

It’s the way research will be conducted into the future.

When our School of Mines and Industries was opened in 1903 by former premier and prominent member of the inaugural Parliament of Australia, Sir Frederick Holder, he referred to the school for the first time as ‘the people’s university’. As we co-create the Enterprise Hub with our colleagues, our industry partners and our community, we expect the enterprise to continue that focus, to bring health and welfare to the community and to build economic value for the state and the nation.

Common consensus is that a generation lasts 30 years. Coincidence? Maybe. Ripe for a Star Trek analogy? Definitely. Next generation Unstoppable.