A Capital Idea – Perth UniverCity

Mark Stickells

Director, UWA Innovation Quarter

While our Federal politicians wait on the results of last weekend's election and we speculate on the balance and distribution of power in a future government, some changes to local government boundaries have now been enacted. On 1 July, Perth's CBD boundaries were more than doubled (from 8.10 km2 to over 19 km2) to incorporate several key landmarks including The University of Western Australia (UWA).

After 100 years, UWA has "returned" to where it first opened its doors, in Perth's Irwin Street in 1913 as WA's first university. Universities are vital economic, social and community assets that make significant contributions through education, research and commercial activities. Perth has five universities and our State is located in the same time zone as 60per cent of the world's population; positioning Perth as a University City, or UniverCity therefore has economic, social and political advantages.

Universities have contributed to WA's economic success through research and development expertise and providing graduates of a world-class advanced education system. Universities also contribute to the progress of our state through international education. In Deloitte's report for the Australian Government, The Value of International Education to Australia 2015 (PDF), the ABS valued exports from international education at $18.8 billion, making it Australia's third largest export and its largest services export in 2014-15. Perth currently hosts 45,000 international students across all education sectors.

StudyPerth, the government-funded agency with the responsibility for promoting the State to international students, estimates that international education generates 10,000 jobs and contributes $1.3 billion per annum to the WA economy.

But the broader benefits of international education are not just economic, they also include increased entrepreneurship, knowledge exchange and international collaboration. Further, social benefits flow from improved cultural literacy, stronger cultural linkages and enhanced cultural capital. In an increasingly interconnected world, developing 'globally literate' and commercially responsive citizens is a focus of universities and an integral part of the higher education curriculum.

The new CBD boundary incorporates UWA as the western gateway to the city, and Kings Park (which covers as large an area as New York's Central Park), Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre and the new Perth Children's Hospital join the city. Belmont Park Raceway and the new Perth Stadium are now part of the recreational precinct that opens the eastern gateway to the city.

Reinforcing the importance of universities to our State, the proposed rail link to connect two of Western Australian universities is an important development. An east-west light rail line between UWA's Crawley campus and Curtin University in Bentley will connect a 'Knowledge Arc' that includes Technology Park in Bentley (home to CSIRO, Australian Resources Research Centre, Pawsey Supercomputer Centre and also UWA gas research laboratories).

I have written on the importance of changing the narrative for our State as we transition from an intense construction phase to a longer term operating phase for major resource projects. It remains a key challenge to take the lessons from the past, harness our geological and geographic advantages and also embrace our intellectual assets.

UWA's Energy and Minerals Institute established a Perth CBD office five years ago in the Brookfield Heritage precinct. We're located in the heart of the CBD to directly engage our industry and community stakeholders. A greater role for our universities in our capital city is a positive and necessary step to increased economic and social activation. It is also supports the wave of innovation and entrepreneurship that is being displayed throughout the CBD. Innovation hubs and shared workspaces such as Spacecubed and Flux are all designed to accelerate the development of new enterprises. As we are more interconnected through digital technology and flexible, shared work spaces, barriers to new business generation are lessened and creativity is rewarded. Universities must embrace this opportunity.

While the local government changes are, at one level, only lines on a map and our physical location hasn't changed (nor has our relatively proximity to other key landmarks shifted), the power of maps to change the narrative of a place or region is undeniable. It is this power on which I am seeking to 'capitalise'. WA's Premier recently identified Perth as a gateway destination for a relaunched State Tourism strategy; I suggest adding value and richness to this gateway through the additional lens of a UniverCity and reinforcing our credentials as both a resource-rich and knowledge-led economy.

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UWA partnership with tech start-up mirrors Silicon Valley model

Jennifer Letts

Communications Manager, UWA Government and Corporate Communications

When UWA graduate Andrew Walker founded Fleet Engineering two and a half years ago, he never imagined that the path would lead back campus.

I was invited to a breakfast hosted by the Innovation Quarter (IQ). A really interesting event and at the end they asked the room for our ideas on all things innovation and engagement

Not one to miss an opportunity I mooted the idea of a partnership with UWA where our start-up would operate from campus in return for teaching, tutoring and other collaborative services.

Andrew's the first to admit he didn't rate the chances of his idea turning into a reality, but through IQ's Rob Shannon a deal was brokered and Fleet Engineering moved in to the School of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the beginning of this year.

Fleet Engineering specialise in helping fleet managers and business owners use technology to improve safety, reduce emissions, reduce costs and manage a mobile workforce.

Essentially we develop the software that the industry can use to make their operations more efficient and cost-effective.

All of the team are UWA graduates, and they're working at the cutting edge. These are people who could work for Google or Facebook, so it's great to keep them challenged at a local level where they can contribute back into the UWA and Perth communities. And the fact that they have the opportunity to translate their academic success into the commercial world is great for them.

One semester in, the Fleet Engineering team are doing their best to get involved in everything they can on campus and are always looking for ways they can add value.

While direct teaching within ECM is one way we can contribute to UWA, there are other types of collaboration we hope can benefit students.

For example next semester we'll have four interns from a variety of disciplines come work with us. We're also looking to work alongside students and researchers in developing commercially viable software technologies.

Andrew says that the Fleet Engineering team especially hope to help students gain insight into what it means to work with industry and translate great ideas into viable business ventures.

A university degree can only take you so far. It's a competitive market out there and building some practical start-up capability is a good thing.

There's a lot of money in Perth that's looking for a good home and with the government's current focus on innovation it's a great time to be in computer science and technology.

There's a tremendous amount of talent within UWA and it's great to have the opportunity to be part of it.

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Mindsets and motivations: What drives enterprising researchers?

Xavier Evans

Student Intern, UWA Innovation Quarter

On Thursday 29 April 2016, researchers and innovators came together at the UWA Innovation Quarter's inaugural "Meetup" to discuss attitudes, experiences and beliefs that drive innovation and research enterprise. The panellists included:

The panel commenced by trying to establish how to define 'innovation'. From there, they discussed the best methods for fostering innovative spirit at UWA and finally the mechanisms for translating great ideas into practice.

Discussion highlights

  • Prof. Champion asserted that the most successful entrepreneurs don't think of what they're doing as 'innovation'. They are focused on identifying and solving problems. He stressed the importance of case studies as a way to inspire researchers and getting them to imagine possibilities for industry collaboration.
  • Dr Iscoe argued that academics often underestimate the potential impact of their research and undervalue their expertise.
  • Dr Winlo stressed the importance of collaboration, quoting the African proverb: "if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together". He argued that great ideas happen in organisations that don't "punish errors of competence". Universities should encourage a culture of risk taking, learn from failure and celebrate success.