On the Leading Edge

Innovation Campus

David Campbell is Director of the Innovation Campus and responsible for fostering ever better relations between the academic sphere and the business world. “The underlying philosophy of the Innovation Campus is to encourage a partnership, whether it be in research terms – commissioning or collaborating – or around scholarships and student placements, students working full or part-time with the partner.”

Having opened its first facilities in 2008, iC is in the midst of a 10 to 15 year programme which will eventually see it housing some 5,000 people. These will primarily be post-graduate students who, though separated by those four kilometres, will enjoy all the facilities of the university. According to its vice-chancellor, the University of Wollongong is in the top two per cent of universities worldwide. In 2012, Times Higher Education published its first ranking of the 100 best universities under the age of 50, which aims to show which nations are challenging the US and the UK as higher education powerhouses. UOW came in at number 33, sharing that spot in the rankings with Macquarie University in a listing in which three of the top five were Asian universities (one in Hong Kong and two, including the winner, in South Korea) and 14 of the 100 were Australian.

David says there are certain basic attractions for companies – not only within the region, which is the east coast’s powerhouse, but nation-wide and indeed world-wide – to look at partnering with iC. Location is important, 1½ hours from Sydney and 2½ hours from Canberra, but he points out that commercial tenants would pay rents that are much lower than Sydney, as are salary costs. “There is also less turnover of staff, less churn, than in Sydney, so there are savings in cost-effectiveness of recruitment and training.”

It’s all the advantages of life within reach of the big city without some of the disadvantages, notably Sydney’s reputation internationally as a very expensive location, and David says it is helping to attract some international companies who are setting up at iC. Australian companies such as BHP-Billiton, which has around a hundred people on the campus, and Bluescope Steel have built solid long-term relations with UOW, and American companies such as Comscope as well as a Chinese IT leader are now locating to the campus to join them. “In areas of IT, engineering and mining, there is no doubt that the university is able to interact and deliver for those businesses in research, and in teaching and providing graduates who can work in those businesses.”

Leasing space to major companies for their research and giving each company access to the students (UOW has the highest level of IT graduates in Australia), iC is all about building on the strengths that UOW already has, says David, “building on these partnerships and forging new ones.” In terms of students, the catchment area is substantially composed of the southern areas of Sydney, many young people finding it easier to travel to Wollongong than to the city’s sandstone institutions. Looking further afield, iC’s website has a Chinese version, evidence that international arrivals are more than welcome. David adds that it is encouraging that other Australian higher-education establishments are frequent visitors to iC to learn how to replicate it elsewhere.

In the areas of alternative materials (iC is home to the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials) and nanotechnology in particular, the world is already beating a path to iC’s 33-hectare site, recognising its leading-edge position. A new Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) is about to open, consolidating the institution’s considerable expertise in this sector too. This is an environmentally advanced building, targeting 6 Star Green Star accreditation and Net-Zero Energy performance. IC has been looking for strategic industry partners to join it to advance joint research interests in the fields of energy efficiency and a sustainable built environment.

The SBRC will provide a “unique opportunity to research, collaborate, and link with industry to meet the challenge of improving the energy efficiency of our new and existing building stock. The SBRC will lead the way in sustainable building research through delivery of advanced retrofit technologies, integrated component testing, skills training and researching the impacts of day to day behaviours of building occupants.” It is also intended as a living laboratory, providing a demonstration space for display of sustainable building technologies and components that will be of benefit to the sustainable buildings industry.

A key part of David’s job is to encourage the continued growth of the Innovation Campus, to collaborate with industry, attract investment and prompt regional jobs growth as a result. “We look at all options and avenues.” Government has been playing its part, he believes, but he welcomes more of the kind of partnerships which are making iC a leader in its field and an unusual crossover between academia and the hard-headed world of tomorrow’s industry. He adds there is still plenty of space on the campus, “so we have some great and exciting opportunities.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 20, 2018, 5:30 AM AEST