How can businesses and universities co-operate to foster innovation, create value and build more resilient communities? This was the central topic of discussion, led by Prof Piet Naudé, Director of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) at the recent Technopark SRA/Stellenbosch University partnership breakfast.
The Development and Alumni Relations Division of SU, hosted the event to enhance the already existing relationship that exists between the town and the Stellenbosch business community.
A number of deans also attended this event.
According to Naudé, the then Chairperson of the Apple Board, John Sculley, noted in 1989 that the transition from the industrial to the information age would see the key economic resources in the world become “knowledge, individual innovators, and information”.
At the time Sculley saw the United States as a nation living beyond its means. Stagnant organisations and modes of operating were stifling the country’s ability to create the value necessary to sustain future growth. Generating value would rely on fostering innovation, which in turn would necessitate re-designing the way organisations go about innovating. For this to happen, the alignment and collaboration between business and higher education would be a central pillar.
Fast-forward to South Africa in 2019, and this topic again comes to the fore, Naudé explained.
Naudé further equated the relationship between business and higher education to an old, worn-out marriage.
“The parties live together and rely on each other for economic and intellectual support, but at the same time seem to move forward on different tracks, each oblivious to what the other is doing.”
He indicated that there is real value in long-term mutually beneficial partnerships where both business and the university can benefit from financial and intellectual exchanges.
In Stellenbosch, he said, both business and higher education share an interest in the town becoming a place where intellectual capital is transformed into economic capital with a view to changing the world.
There is business value in intellectual research when companies, on the one hand can tap into the resources of the university to explore relevant topics. This can range from how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect agriculture to the disruptive effects in the FinTech world. The university, on the other hand, has the material, human and institutional resources to explore real, current and future business problems.
In the knowledge economy, higher education equates to real value when the people that graduate from universities enter the job market. However, business should invest further in their workforce by exploiting the life-long learning opportunities on offer.
Life-long learning and continuous training in areas of technology and business management helps to produce an agile and informed workforce that can contribute to innovation, and competitive advantage and add to their company’s bottom line.
Possibly the most enduring value in business and university partnerships, Naudé indicated, lies in the goal of building resilient communities.
The university is not only a strong economic contributor to the town of Stellenbosch, but an active agent of change through community development and outreach. Partnerships in areas of corporate social responsibility are not only beneficial in terms of tax, but more importantly in building stronger communities that house an educated civil society with a strong voice.
For business, cultivating a relationship with a university over a period of years can yield innovative research projects and products, skilled employees and philanthropic opportunities.
On the other hand, universities can benefit by aligning their study offerings and research endeavours with real world demands and problem solving. This can happen when both parties invest resources, time, and capital while cultivating trust through consistent communication and positive interactions.
"Both parties must continue to court each other by finding shared endeavours to pursue, discussing plans for the future, and celebrating joint successes," Naudé concluded. - Nicholas Dietrich and Anneke Müller
Photo Caption: Prof Piet Naudé, Director of the University of Stellenbosch Business School. (Photographer: Ameer Saban)