Innovation needs epicentre to thrive

Thursday, 22 February 2018

By Peter Rathjen

It could be said that South Australia is at a tipping point, making decisions that could transform the economy and secure the future for generations to come.

The great cities around the world, facing similar challenges, have recognised that solutions to socio-economic renewal must be founded on innovation, smart people and global connectivity.

Those great cities look to create physical spaces that connect universities, the key source of these assets, with business, industry and societal need. They recognise that from this connectivity will flow energy, ideas and the industries of the future.

Their universities are repositioned as community assets, moving from commentating on society to participanting in society.

In Adelaide, the right physical space will enable us to leverage the strengths of our universities to draw multinational research-based corporations, entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs, students, and researchers from around the globe.

Colocation of these groups as an ecosystem – a much more enriched version of the familiar university campus – will enable students to move seamlessly between campus classes, R&D labs and corporate environments, broadening their education and preparing them to become the job creators of the future.

Alignment of university research with industry and societal need will sharpen the questions being asked by our researchers and facilitate the translation of discoveries and solutions for community benefit.

Ideally, an ecosystem of this kind would be located in the heart of Adelaide, a liveable city that is highly attractive to entrepreneurs.

From this would flow innovation and economic renewal. Foundation technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and cyber security can be leveraged into high-value jobs across South Australia in areas such as defence, energy, health care and agriculture.

This can be coupled with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand this enterprise by leveraging the Federal Government’s $89 billion defence spending in South Australia. Such a move would recognise that technological advancements developed and delivered for defence can find application in other industrial sectors, which can replace the jobs lost through decline in manufacturing.

Adelaide is blessed with the perfect site to realise this vision: the old Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) site located between the universities and the CBD, at the heart of our beautiful city.

Time and place, philosophy and resource converge to make possible this extraordinary opportunity: a central city innovation precinct that leverages the strengths of our university system, our lifestyle and the vibrancy of our city, in the interests of the future of work and our children.

Professor Peter Rathjen is Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Adelaide. He presented on this topic at the Economic and Political Overview 2018, at the InterContinental Adelaide, hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

This column was originally published in The Advertiser, Thursday 22 February 2018.


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