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Australian regional universities build community connection

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki speaking at the University of the Sunshine Coast during Science Week was always going to be a drawcard, but when the event’s venue needed to change to the sports stadium and it still books out, you know there is something big happening. The Sunshine Coast community sees its local university as playing an essential civic role.

I sat in my seat mesmerised by the flow of people into the stadium - parents with school kids, uni students and staff, people straight from work, older people in ones and twos.

While I, like the many hundreds in the audience, was engaged by Dr Karl’s storytelling prowess my mind continued to consider the importance of regional universities in our communities.

A little searching when I arrived back to my office, and I came across the 2016 report by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DIIS) on How Regional Universities Drive Regional Innovation.

This survey style report notes Australian universities predominantly measure academic excellence to achieve ERA and other ratings via publications and Australian Competitive Grants (ACG). The report found that “industry engagement leading to business productivity does not necessarily contribute to currently recognised measures of academic excellence”.

It found that regional environments dictate the specialised research undertaken – its areas of strength or perhaps in economic terms its competitive advantage. The Report goes further that the specific specialisation of regional universities is linked to the industry strengths of the region and this leads to regional innovation. The all makes perfect sense.

Two years following the release of the DIIS report and it appears headway is being made to build on innovation in our regions. The Queensland Government, under its Advance Queensland Program, has introduced the Advancing Regional Innovation Program with the aim “to turn our regions into hubs for innovation and enterprise”, by enabling and encouraging collaboration between regional stakeholders thus strengthening businesses and creating future jobs.

Meanwhile the Federal Government’s Incubator Support Program has committed more funds for regional incubators that will assist business development by providing advice and assistance for the linking of business, universities, research institutes and government.

The Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast (IC) is located at USC and is a hub for start-ups and innovators on the Sunshine Coast. It is a great example of how providing a facility that encourages innovation to thrive and grow can encourage businesses to flourish and provides the knowhow to move from start-up phase to significant players in our community.

It comes back to the important role that regional universities play in Australia. The IC’s website shows that since its inception in 2002 over $60M of economic value has been generated for the region, including over 800 jobs created, and more information on its success can be learned here.

Over the coming months, Orangepeel will showcase key research and researchers from regional Australian universities.

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