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University ties with business

University ties with business must be ‘front and square’

The chief executive of Business New Zealand Phil O’Reilly wants links between business and tertiary education institutions to be more systematic.

He says a change along these lines should be part of the Government’s planned tertiary reforms.

A Tertiary Education Strategy, outlining priorities in the sector, will be released next month, with Education Minister Dr Michael Cullen saying universities have a vital contribution to make in accelerating the transformation of the economy.

Mr O’Reilly has just been appointed inaugural chair of Massey University’s new College of Business Advisory Board. He regards the role as a positive step in the change process – but says there is much more to be done.

“The issue of how to get the two sectors to be more mutually supportive has been much debated in the context of reforms to the sector,” he says. “How do you get trusting, empowered and productive dialogue between business and the universities? The problem in New Zealand is that there is no requirement for this to happen – there’s no systematic way to provide for communities of interest.”

Mr O’Reilly says all public tertiary institutions – universities, polytechnics and wananga – are required by law to have business representatives on their governing bodies, but this has not always translated into close relations with industry. “In some cases, particularly in the universities, links to the business community are more a matter of goodwill than process. Connections rely to a significant extent on personalities and individual decisions.

“When connections are made, they often work very well and create benefits for companies, institutions and students. But the process of linking universities to employers and industry is not as robust or as systematic as it should be.”

Mr O’Reilly is not surprised by Massey’s decision to set up a business advisory board. “The University has an excellent history of liaising with industry, beginning with early close links to the agricultural sector. It’s in Massey’s DNA.

“We need to take this sort of existing good dialogue and add to it in a structured way, so that real issues that concern both universities and business, including future needs, are front and square and can be debated together.”

He says such a dialogue is far too important to leave to chance and goodwill.

The board will meet for the first time in February and has representatives from Auckland, Wellington, Masterton, Palmerston North and Wanganui. Individual members represent College of Business programmes, including aviation, finance, leadership development, retail, property development, marketing, accounting and small and medium business.

ENDS

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