Saturday, February 21, 2015

Australian Graduates Can Learn to Innovate at Universities, Government and Industry

Something is terribly wrong when a specialist writer on small companies and entrepreneurs doesn't understand that a government department can be more innovative than a retail computer store. Tony Featherstone in "I don't want to work at Apple" (SMH, February 19, 2015) worries that Australian university graduates would prefer to work for the government than for Apple. But as far as I know, Apple Computer does not carry out R&D in Australia, they just sell computers imported from China, running software imported from the USA. In contrast, Australian government agencies, often in conjunction with Australian universities, have been producing home grown innovation for decades.

Mr. Featherstone referred to our university students wanting to be "auditors, bank managers and bureaucrats". Currently I am teaching students how to be auditors at the Australian National University. But they are going to audit carbon emissions, not money. After checking the emissions, they then have to come up with creative ways to reduce energy use, save Australian company's money and help save the planet from global warming.

As a public servant I helped write the public policy needed to make the Internet available across Australia. We were helped in this by Australian universities. Along the way the Australian Defence Force was reequipped with new digital communications to better fight wars and deal with natural disasters.

But not all graduates want to join a large government agency. Some go to work at Google's Sydney R&D office, building better digital mapping systems. Other students join CEA in Canberra, to program the world's most advanced military radars.

Mr. Featherstone is correct that Australian universities need more incubator programs. The ACT is taking a regional approach with the major universities joining with local government to create the CBR Innovation Network. Under one roof, the center of Canberra now has a facility brining together students, investors and advisors. The Australian National University has also started TechLauncher, with the option of students working for up to two years on their start-up, for credit.

Entrepreneurship and innovation is something to teach to students. I am running a course in "New Technology Alignment" on-line at the moment, for the Australian Computer Society. But this is not just a matter of a few Powerpoint slides and then let 'em loose.

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