22/12/2020 - 09:00

STEM focus for uni, small business link

22/12/2020 - 09:00

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Stronger relationships between WA's small businesses and universities will help students finding employment in a post-COVID-19 economy, according to Murdoch University vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen.

STEM focus for uni, small business link
Eeva Leinonen says businesses appreciate the creativity students bring to their placements

Stronger relationships between Western Australia’s small businesses and universities will help students finding employment in a post-COVID-19 economy, according to Murdoch University vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen.

The comments follow a small business roundtable, hosted by Professor Leinonen and Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA chief executive Chris Rodwell, in early November to discuss implementation of the federal government’s $900 million national priorities and industry linkage fund.

The fund, announced in July, is intended to enhance engagement between universities and businesses through focusing on support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics-aligned (STEM) industries.

Professor Leinonen, who is a member of the working group consulting the fund’s implementation, told Business News universities had collaborated with the private sector for some time through placements and internships.

However, the roundtable discussion had raised concerns about the technical difficulties that came with integrating students into these programs, as well as the cultural divide between academia and the private sector.

Still, Professor Leinonen said that businesses appreciated the creativity students brought, and suggested universities build on that strength when working with the private sector.

“From the SME’s perspective, how do we get the message that … there are opportunities, that they’re valuable, and something that even a very small organisation can take advantage of?” she said.

Mr Rodwell said it was apparent that small businesses needed to do a better job of promoting work-integrated learning opportunities, both with students while on campus but also further afield within private businesses.

“I don’t think there’s a lack of interest; it’s really to this point of what [opportunities] exist, how do we utilise it and what commitments do we need to make?” he said.

The comments by Professor Leinonen and Mr Rodwell follow the passage of the federal government’s Job-Ready Graduates Bill in October, which has sought to increase enrolments for STEM degrees.

Professor Leinonen, however, told Business News that the roundtable should be seen as an extension of the university’s existing work to increase student engagement with employment opportunities.

“We are not engaging in this because of the external funding and policy environment, we’re engaging in this because of our strategy,” she said.

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