It is not a new phenomenon for corporate organizations to turn to universities to help develop their people. However, new research from the University of South Australia suggests that universities are not doing as much as they could to nurture and attract these types of partnerships.
Interim research findings show that 53 percent of respondents from public and private companies as well as government entities recognize that university-corporate partnerships are a valuable part of an organization’s future direction and strategic development. Some 29 percent, however, say that while such relationships are valuable, involved parties don’t realize the potential or the real value of the partnership. “Those who are really committed are getting great results,” said Lindsay Ryan, director of strategic partnerships, University of South Australia. “Others are saying, ‘Yeah it’s good, but there’s a lot more that we can do with it.’ I guess this is a matter of universities building rapport with corporations and government, taking the time to understand what the organizations are and what they’re trying to achieve. One of the main concerns that corporations had is that universities aren’t taking the time to get to know them.”
Ryan said that the rapid growth of corporate learning organizations over the past 10 to 15 years has made universities an underutilized resource by corporations and governments. Initial research suggests that growth was stimulated because traditional universities weren’t meeting corporate needs. Some 21 percent of organizations that participated in the research said they established corporate universities to build their employees’ skills and competencies relevant to organizational strategy, which offers universities a golden opportunity to leverage their higher education platforms to meet enterprise education needs. Unfortunately, Ryan said that universities are often hampered by institutionalized thinking and are too slow in their response to meet corporate requests. Further, university offerings are often ill-matched to meet the learning demands of businesses actively competing in the global marketplace. And, corporate entities may not have their information, communication and technology working together so that learning offered today in New York, for example, can easily be replicated tomorrow in Sydney or in London.
“If you look at a lot of the corporations, they’re operating 24×7 and they’re global,” Ryan explained. “A lot of the learning is taking place in real time, and universities usually take longer to think about all this and digest it, so there’s a new role emerging with universities. I call them the anthropologists. They’ll work along side the corporates, they’ll document and they’ll look for emerging trends, which, in turn, goes back to the reinforcement and continuing development of the learning process. These are interim figures I’m talking about. At this stage, roughly 26 percent of the responses are from the U.S., 35 percent from the U.K. and Europe, and 39 percent from Australia. Education is a tremendous catalyst to get people to work together, and while you’re getting people to work together, they’re starting to open their minds a little more. You can start to stretch them and get them to think of things they hadn’t thought in day-to-day operations. Part of this is not only building the schools, but developing consistency in what an organization’s trying to achieve. As opposed to a U.K. operation, they’re education programs being different or having a different strategic objective to say the corporate or U.S. operation. Having consistency from what they do on a global basis, that’s part of this continuing development of education and learning. It highlights the fact that it’s a 24×7 operation, and any reasonably sized organization, as soon as you put your organization on the Web, you’re competing globally.”
Competition between universities looking to provide corporate learning programs may create some advantages in the marketplace, provided universities commit to understanding their corporate partners’ needs. “I see universities increasingly looking for new sources of income, but at the same time you’ve got organizations who are prepared to invest in the development of their people and universities that don’t understand,” Ryan said. “This was the catalyst for me doing this research. Universities don’t understand the needs and the requirements of corporates and don’t understand that business operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week on a global basis. They need to develop programs that reflect the changing needs of corporates, but also be able to work with corporates. That means they’ve got to be more flexible, more responsive, more adaptable. Corporates are looking for more flexibility, not only in delivery, but having some influence over the content in the programs, not just what the universities think. Increasingly, it’s not just what the corporations think. This is where the two have the opportunity to work together. There’s a need there on both sides, but if universities are going to do these types of educational arrangements, they need to understand what industry wants and what the role of their education program is. It’s investing their time and understanding.”
Lindsay Ryan is actively looking for organizations to contribute to his research. All responses are kept completely confidential. If interested, visit http://www.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/tellus2/surveyform.asp?id=1748 for more information.