Save the golden goose

But we will “kill the golden goose”, he says, if we narrow down too much the role of universities.

“Universities aren’t businesses. But nor can they run away and hide. So they have to create new narrative about themselves.”

Maharey says universities have to transform themselves into ‘stand-up’, ‘entrepreneurial’ universities. 

At the same time, they need to hold on to the traditions of autonomy and freedom to think that have been built up over centuries.

“They can’t be put in position where they can only do what they’re told to do.”

Maharey argues against goals being imposed upon universities and says institutions must stick to their purpose. 

“Ask ‘why does my organisation exist?’ … That’s the debate we need to have in our sector. We’re got to change within the purpose of our organisations.”

According to Maharey the best universities are becoming places for liberal education that focus on society’s big problems such as water issues, the rise of Asia, social media or globalisation.

They have culture of problem-solving, risk-taking and entrepreneurship. And while they work in partnership with industry, each player performs their own role well and doesn’t take over the other’s role.

Both universities and business have separate parts to play in an “ecology of innovation and growth”.

Maharey says universities are not places to provide 10 steps to commercialisation. They are not businesses “although they may do business-like things”. Nor are they economic development units or job factories.

“The word we use at Massey is that we want to be ‘relevant’,” he says. 

“People ask if we’ve given someone job when they leave university. We say, ‘no, but we like to think we’ve given them career’.”

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