An approach to mutually beneficial university:business engagement

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Margaret Hudson
Macquarie University

Main problem
Macquarie University in Sydney Australia has an aspiration of being a university of service and engagement. The university is situated adjacent to a thriving business park with over 200 companies. Engagement with the park has however, historically been very fragmented, as many areas of the university sought to gain corporate support for their specific area of interest, but with no overall strategic purpose. There was thus a significant problem to resolve in terms of how to maximise and leverage locational advantage, in a way that was optimal for both the university and corporate organisations located in the park.

With a goal to develop impactful partnerships that align to Macquarie’s aspiration of being a university of service and engagement, in September 2013 the university established an Office of Corporate Engagement.
Upon its establishment, the Office identified two key strategic objectives to address the above mentioned problem. The first of these was to develop effective internal partnerships with relevant areas of the university and an agreed commonality of purpose and approach. The internal environment was fragmented and it was imperative that an environment of trust was developed. To address this, three key initiatives were undertaken. Firstly, one on one relationships were developed with key areas across the university, to build trust as well as a shared understanding of the intent and purpose of engagement. Secondly, a Corporate Engagement Reference Group, with senior representation from across the university was initiated, with the purpose of reviewing and monitoring progress of the Corporate Engagement function, as well as sharing information between all members about their engagements with corporate partners. Thirdly, the Office started distributing a monthly report, sharing all the interactions it has with corporate partners.

The second broad objective was to create a model of mutual value – so that corporate partners could see that our approach was based not on what the university could gain from them, but on what each party brought to the table, and how we could each derive value and benefit from the interaction.

Another key initiative was to create a “one stop shop” for external partners so that they had one single point of contact at the university, with whom they could refer any issue to, and have that office provide them with a solution. The office invested a lot of time in developing the internal relationships and product knowledge required to be able to do this effectively, and match university capability to corporate need. This included mapping capability in areas such as opportunities for engagement with students as casuals, interns and employees as well as research collaboration and the provision of executive education courses.

Results and impact
Within three years, the Office of Corporate Engagement is generating revenue in excess of $6m annually and has been responsible for sourcing a significant number of internship opportunities for our students with companies that had no previous contact with the university. The office has also identified a number of research opportunities which range from evaluating the probability of different cancer treatments delivering improved patient outcomes, to an assessment of the benefits of monitoring US ICU hospital patients from a Macquarie University hospital site, utilising a corporate partner’s technology.

In May 2016 the Optus Macquarie University Cyber security hub was announced, with a $5m contribution from Optus as the founding partner. The Hub was conceived, developed and managed by the Office of Corporate Engagement. This partnership commits Optus to supporting workforce development of its staff, joint thought leadership and marketing events, as well as scholarships and potential internships for Macquarie students.

After two years of operation, the university determined that whilst we had created a number of very successful bilateral relationships with corporate partners, we wished to leverage these relationships and capitalise on our location adjacent to the business park. After extensive research we determined that the most applicable model to adopt was that of the Brookings Institute (1), and their work on Innovation Districts. Leveraging the relationships with companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Optus, Abbott, AMP Capital and Konica Minolta we have created an innovation district, the Macquarie Park Innovation District. With a vision to be “a globally recognised eco-system creating innovative solutions for the local and international community” – the Innovation District was launched on 17 August 2016. Its creation has been possible through the depth of corporate partnerships developed by the Office of Corporate Engagement over the last three years.

Conclusion, learning opportunities and future potential
The results achieved to date verify the mutual value and holistic approach to university engagement with corporate partners that Macquarie has implemented. We have learnt that if internal partners can see the merits of having a strategic approach to engagement that will ultimately deliver more benefits than individual approaches, their support will be forthcoming. From an external perspective, we have learnt that companies value highly the “one stop shop” approach to engagement with universities, as it enables them to effectively access all that a university can offer, in an effective and informed way.

The future potential for Macquarie University’s engagement with corporate partners is limitless. We are aiming to attract 50 more partners to the Innovation District over the next 12 months, and with the development of incubators on and off campus, the vision of creating an innovation eco-system with our corporate partners, will be realised over the next 3 years.