Skills, innovation key for Australia and Canada

vice-chancellorFlinders University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Barber (pictured) will tell an international audience today that Australia and Canada must invest in skills, encourage innovation and strengthen collaboration in order to compete against innovative leaders in developed and emerging economies.

Professor Barber will make his comments as a discussion panel member at the 2012 Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum, Renewing the partnership for the 21st century, being held in Toronto this week.

Co-chaired by former SA Premier and Flinders Professorial Fellow, Mike Rann, the Forum is the second biennial summit between Australia and Canada, aimed at fostering high level public and private sector discussion on international trade, investment and broader economic issues.

Other speakers and panel members include Martin Ferguson, Minister for Resources and Energy; Malcolm Turnbull, Shadow Communications Minister; Kevin Rudd MP; Heather Ridout, former Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group; and Paul Kelly, Editor-at-Large for The Australian newspaper.

Professor Barber says that without investment in skills, innovation and collaboration, “failure is very likely, with dire consequences for both societies”.

“These investments may not guarantee success in the competition between our mid-sized developed economies and those in Asia – especially without other critical investments, such as infrastructure, and correct policy settings by government,” Professor Barber says.

“The danger signs are there: we are small, resource-rich but complacent nations that face uncertain futures in a turbulent ‘white water world’,” he says.

“Without the right skills and good skill development, Australia and Canada will not be able to sustain an economic base to even enter global competition. Yet, certainly in Australia and I suspect in Canada, there are signs of a looming skills crisis.”

Professor Barber adds that education is fundamental to skill development, and both nations needed to boost the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; to expand participation in tertiary education; and to improve undergraduate student retention rates.

On the question of innovation, Professor Barber says universities needed to acknowledge that technical knowledge and research were only part of the story.

“Too many researchers in universities do not yet appreciate that research, while obviously producing novel or innovative outputs, is not of itself innovation,” he says.

“Equally, and often more critically, innovation relies as much on design, marketing and the development of novel business models and business processes.”

Professor Barber will also emphasise the need for collaboration between Australia and Canada to eliminate the unnecessary duplication of effort, to promote multidisciplinary approaches to solving “the pressing problems of the 21st century”, and to “shorten the time involved in innovation”.

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