Education & Professional Development programmes: It’s all about team work

Building strong relationship between business and academia isn’t an easy task, with both academics and business leaders saying they need to find better ways of bridging the gap.
The need for post-graduate business courses to stay up-to-date and relevant with real world requirements is constant challenge, but academics say it swings both ways. They believe businesses need to focus on applying research-based information to their practices if we are to see any real progress.
University of Auckland business school professor Brad Jackson, who is the Fletcher Building Education Trust Chair in Leadership, says the two can learn from each other, but business leaders need to recognise that universities play vital role in everyday business.
“The business people I’ve interacted with have this image of what university is about and are sometimes reluctant to engage with us because they assume it is irrelevant, that it’s detached and archaic. What I always try to say is give us chance. At least give us an audience, and tell us what your issues are.”
Jackson says key factor in bridging the gap is developing stronger dialogue which needs to happen on regular basis.
“It should be cyclical process,” says Jackson. “It’s not question of us coming down from the mountain with our research and saying this is the way you should do it – you’d get laughed out of town. What we can bring to the table is that we are plugged into whole range of discussions about business issues around the world that managers might not be as privy to. We have sense of the issues that are emerging and possible solutions and we can relate that to the New Zealand context.”
He says the majority of business leaders who meet and share their knowledge with students often walk away feeling like they’ve learned something themselves.
“It’s not necessarily about giving us money, it’s about time,” he says. “Students are their future employees. We look for dialogue where we can talk about issues that we’re facing and also talk about the world they’re in and what we can do to help and assist. But also we’re there to challenge as well. We’re the critics of society so I think it’s important to be able to say look, what you’re doing could be done better and vice versa – they need to tell us that too. It does need to be seen as an equal partnership.”
Canterbury University MBA director Peter Cammock agrees, saying more businesses need to involve themselves with education providers.
“It’s about collaboration and bringing together the inspiration of cutting-edge research with the pragmatism of real world management,” says Cammock.
“That means greater dialogue between people who teach in universities and practising managers. lot of that can happen in classroom setting where business people come into classroom and the academic is able to offer good research-based material and then the business leaders can bring their experience into it. Out of that can come an understanding that is beneficial for both worlds.”
Leadership New Zealand deputy chair Tony Nowell’s clustering theory suggests that if New Zealand universities and businesses learn to collaborate, then we can develop our scale to take on large global markets more effectively.
“Clustering or collaboration is not starting from an ‘I must do’ situation, it starts from an ‘I wonder if we could do’ type situation. If we’re all small and we collaborate then at least we can be medium-sized together – it’s an issue of scale.”
But he says there’s one major roadblock standing in our way.
“We live in culture of individualists, whereas in places like the UK where the concept is being applied successfully, people are used to working together in more collective structures. That raises the question – is there specific education in management development that is required about how to work in clusters and how to collaborate better?”
University of Waikato Business School associate dean Peter Sun says we need to look overseas if we are to learn anything, but the struggle seems to be ingrained.
“In New Zealand the problem is historical,” says Sun. “Companies have never had that level of engagement with universities and therefore this perception has emerged that universities are archaic and the only way we can break it is to bring in some sort of engagement. They need to trust that they do have things to offer each other.
“In the US and Europe, companies engage with the industry. They engage in research and academics have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the business world. You don’t find that level of engagement here and that is why it is difficult for us to find these types of academics who have real world experience in business.”
Aside from an attitude adjustment, Sun says we need to start producing new calibre of academic who is trained to engage with business.
“You need what we call ‘pracademics’ – practical academics – who can take research and what they teach, then go into an organisation and apply it while finding out the dynamics of the organisation and contextualise that in their teaching. That calibre of academic is really what is necessary to bridge the gap.”
Sun says another effective way of engagement is through the MBA programmes where many academics get consulting work in an organisation.
Just this year, the University of Waikato introduced its new Maori MBA programme which has been named one of four finalists in the inaugural MBA Innovation Award offered by the London-based Association of MBAs (AMBA).
The first MBA of its kind in the world, the Maori MBA programme is contextualised for indigenous businesses.
Sun says the programme is based around engagement with Maori business leaders.
“We invite Maori leaders into the programme who work in certain subject matter and they engage with the lecturers. There are also case studies relevant to Maori business so the subjects that are taught are based on those studies.”
The winner of the MBA Innovation Award will be announced on October 19. M

Hayley Barnett is Mediaweb’s writer at large.

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