STEM, STEAM and Impact

The two areas of great recent debate have been around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and impact. These are both significant debates, the one is seeking to understand what skills will be needed in the future and how school educated students can be best prepared for university and the workforce, particularly in terms of 21st century skills. There is a great need to prepare the workforce with the skills they need, and this has fostered the debates around STEM, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) and 21st century education skills. However, it is unclear currently exactly what the new jobs will be and therefore plans to prepare students for the information economies of the future have not always been grounded in the evidence base. Although for example the Australian Computer Society report on ICT skills shortages (https://www.acs.org.au/news-and-media/news/2015/ict-skills-shortage-points-to-enormous-career-opportunities-finds-acs-and-deloitte) may begin to point to where the skills gaps are to ensure that university programmes are designed to address any educational skills needs.

Impact has been a great debate in the United Kingdom as a result of changes from the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) to the Research Exercise Framework (REF) and is starting to be considered in Australia with proposed impact measures in addition to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). The main touchpoint of the debate has been not so much around what impact is or how it might be facilitated but rather around how impact can be measured. There is an assumption here that impact can be measured and that measurement and certainty can guide sectoral transformation. While this is arguable, it is certain that innovation will drive impact, so some focus is needed upon how we can better connect innovation with investment to maximise profitability and accelerate growth.

Necessarily we will want impact of research beyond citations and funded projects into start-ups and IP generation, but this will require scientifically trained students to enter our workforce, with soft skills to problem solve and overcome challenges and knowledge of how evidence-based approaches and analytical skills can be applied in given areas of study and practice.

What is certain is that the next generation of graduates will need a range of skills including resilience and adaptability to prepare them for the greater number of career changes they will experience over their working lives.

To fuel wider social and economic development and growth over the next five years in Australia, a programme of innovation, entrepreneurialism and academic-industrial collaboration is needed.

The next blog post will consider promoting innovation in our universities.

Trends for Higher Education 2015-2020

Innovation, Entrepreneurialism & Academic-Industrial Collaboration

Higher education is the fifth largest export for Australia. It will continue to play a huge role in the cultural and social life as well as economic growth of the country. Over the next five years, with increasing investment, the higher education sector in Australia will be set to grow and there are a number of key trends that we are likely to see deepen over the period.

The main areas of growth over the next five years will be fuelled by the move towards more information-based economies. The emergence of information societies (see work of Manuel Castells) and the rapid growth of computer technologies, broadband and mobile technologies has fuelled a greater dependence upon data transfer and analysis in our globally connected societies.

Universities are in a particularly good position to capitalise on this move to information economies as they are already major metropolitan and regional generators of intellectual property (IP), are international research centres and provide tertiary education and training for 47-70% of our school leaving students aged 17+ as well as educating large numbers of mature age lifelong learners aged 24+.

However modern society is fast changing (see work of Paul Virilio) and today’s problems are very different from yesterdays. Students want to learn in different ways and can gain much of the traditionally taught information from the web. Universities need to adapt to this fast changing environment and better prepare students for the different challenges and opportunities they find themselves in.

This means that as societies grow and develop in ever faster paces the university sector has to be more proactive to changes and adapt to give students the best experience we can and invest in innovation and applied research to help fuel metropolitan and regional development and growth to ensure that students can walk into a range of employment opportunities in a vibrant local economy. In order for the university sector to be more proactive, a greater focus upon leading metropolitan and regional areas in innovation, entrepreneurialism and greater interconnection between public and private sectors of the economy, is required.

To achieve more of a leadership role in the city or region requires planning and foresight, areas of specialism need to be selected carefully and invested into over a number of years. Links between State-wide start-ups and incubators need to be fostered and aligned by State government priorities as well as through universities and industry initiatives. Above all a dialogue between academic-industrial and government partners needs to be nurtured and made to underpin all investment planning. Through this alignment of focus and investment, greater returns can be achieved for students, industry, the academy and government.

Our new societies are above all about collaboration not competition. It is critical that this is acknowledged as we build our 21st century communities.

The next blog post will consider ‘STEM, STEAM and impact’.

Link to book:

de Freitas, S. Education in Computer Generated Environments. London & New York: Routledge