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Shaping the future of Australian Universities

How industry partnerships and digitisation are driving change
Student working on futuristic computer
Getty/Laurence Dutton

Australia's universities are critical to our future prosperity. They are the incubators for tomorrow's workforce and leaders, and hone the skills that industry needs to boost productivity and innovation while playing a key role in developing new technologies and capabilities.

But just as Australian industry is changing rapidly in response to digitisation and other external factors, universities too are having to ensure they can reshape and uplift their relevance. Digitisation is creating, transforming, and disrupting our nation's most critical industries, and universities are responding accordingly.

Their efforts can be seen in the way they are adapting to the changing needs of students and staff and working more closely with industry to produce graduates with skillsets appropriate for today and tomorrow's requirements. The changes they are making are touching everything from how they offer and deliver learning through to how they utilise their physical spaces, as well as how they engage in a more applied manner with industry, communities, and government.

Indeed, whether a leading university today can continue to thrive will depend greatly on how well it can understand and utilise the digital tools available to it – and whether it can play a role in creating the digital skills, applications, and industry needs of the future.

Because as many Australian universities are learning, while the changes witnessed so far have been significant, they are nothing compared to what lies ahead.

Universities of the future

Amidst the many critical roles that universities play, one that has gained significant attention is the role they play in supporting Australia's sovereign capabilities and our ability to innovate at scale.

This need has been brought to the fore thanks to the noted skills shortages across a wide range of industries. These include the digital skills that are critical to the transformation of Australian industry, and especially those that create deep capabilities across cybersecurity, 5G technologies, and AI. At the same time, emerging requirements in sectors such as space technologies and Australia's nascent nuclear defence capability are also creating new demands.

These new requirements are evolving quickly, and as such demand a highly adaptive approach from universities, both in terms of the skills that are teaching, and the speed at which these skills are transferred to students.

For this reason many universities are developing different modes of learning delivery, from using hybrid and virtual environments through to offering short courses and micro-credentials that get students skilled up quickly in specific areas.

Student on computer in a virtual class
Getty/Laurence Dutton

Critical to the success of these programs however is the relationships between universities and the industry partners, and it is here that Cisco and Optus are delivering a significant capability uplift to Australia's higher education institutions.

These partnerships allow Cisco and Optus to provide insights and guidance in skills development, while also enabling them and their customers to bring in-demand skills more readily into their own organisations.

Working in partnership

There are numerous mechanisms through which both Optus and Cisco are forging close relationships with Australia's higher education institutions.

Prominent amongst these is the National Industry Innovation Network (NIIN). Formed in 2020, the NIIN brings together Optus and Cisco with a network of institutions to collectively better respond to the big challenges of national interest.

As foundation members of the NIIN, Optus and Cisco are contributing resources and intellectual capital into their university partners. This includes the creation of six innovation centres under the banner of Innovation Central, a network of 5G Innovation Labs that will form the foundation for true industry based applied research and innovation, accompanied by the appointment of University Research Chairs who are helping explore how new technologies can transform specific industries and improve resilience and transformation by examining real world challenges. These Innovation Centres are supported by supported by scholarships, internships, and placements for students.

Employees at a hospital sitting at a desk talking about work
Getty/Tom Werner

A team at South Australia's Flinders University for instance are investigating four research areas covering hospital digital infrastructure maturity and patient experience, while at NSW's University of Newcastle, investigations are proceeding into better models for meeting the health needs of rural and remote communities. In recent weeks, Optus announced the appointment of a Research Chair in Cybersecurity in partnership with the University of South Australia, which will play a critical role in driving forward the State's economic opportunities in the areas of Defence over the next decade.

In addition, government grant programs are enabling La Trobe University, Swinburne University and Charles Darwin University to look into the impact of digitisation across industries from the use of 5G technology, such as how it can help councils better maintain assets through to how drones can be used to distribute medical supplies into remote indigenous communities. Other Innovation Central locations are investigating critical issues such as Australia's national digital security and the maintenance of critical supply chains.

Engagement in action

At Victoria's La Trobe University, Optus and Cisco are helping to bring to life its vision of creating the University City of the Future at its 235-hectare Melbourne campus in Bundoora.

This vision seeks to make La Trobe University the destination of choice for domestic and international students, staff, communities, and industry partners while driving cost-optimisation and service efficiencies across its IT functions. This includes the creation of a new Research and Innovation Precinct that will connect businesses with research, students and infrastructure, with initial work focusing on enhancing the university's networks, contact centre and embracing cloud.

Student working on the computer utilizing the cloud
Getty/Eduard Figueres

The partnership has also seen La Trobe University play a key role in helping re- and up-skill Optus staff by offering them the opportunity to gain credentials in such areas as user experience, data analytics, and cybersecurity.

At WA's Curtin University the NIIN partnership has been critical to supporting its announcement as the first of Australia's Trailblazer universities, which has seen the university receive additional funding to develop a research commercialisation hub.

This partnership is the latest in a long list of engagements between Cisco, Optus, and Curtin University, which has also included the creation of Western Australia's first dedicated research lab set to unleash new 5G applications and enhance student experience.


Partnerships such as these are another way in which Cisco and Optus are demonstrating the depth of their engagement in the Australian market, and their long-term commitment to boosting national capability and competitiveness.

By helping universities adapt to the changing needs of students, staff, and industry, Optus and Cisco are not only working to ensure that Australia is maximising the potential of its higher education sector, but helping ensure the sector itself will remain fit for purpose for the needs of a rapidly evolving world.

Find out more La Trobe University makes connecting a priority with Optus

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