Building the University of the Future

Curtin University is regarded as an innovative institution with a penchant and track record for creating strong industry ties. Today, as it builds on its master plan, it is looking to broaden its appeal and accessibility. Business First speaks with Vice Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry AO about the university’s vision and its impact on Western Australian society.

How do you plan the university of the future?

It’s a question that many of Australia’s leading tertiary institutions would be asking themselves as lifestyles and work practices rapidly evolve.

Preparing students to be competent members of the greater social construct isn’t so easy. It requires a vision for the future, which is why Curtin University has hatched the Curtin Master Plan and Vision for 2030 as an extension of its commitment to innovation.

The Master Plan is designed to showcase knowledge, create vibrant communities and stimulate economic activity. As part of the Master Plan, Curtin’s main Perth campus is being further developed as an important economic and innovative hub.

It is hoped that this plan will capitalise on Curtin University’s standing as a vital cog amongst the largest concentration of innovative industry and research in Western Australia.

“The university has for some time been focused on how it positions itself to be a core part of the major innovation ecosystem of the future. The product of this thinking is what we now call Greater Curtin,” says Vice- Chancellor Deborah Terry.

Professor Terry joined Curtin as Vice-Chancellor in 2014, following a 24-year career at the University of Queensland and knows a thing or two about innovation in the tertiary system.

She has a list of accolades to  her name including an Order of Australia, but it is her position on the Board of the Committee for Perth and AARNET, the provider of Australia’s network infrastructure for education and research, that really highlights hers and the University’s commitment to strengthening economic and social prosperity.

“By opening up the north part of our large Perth campus, the Greater Curtin development is designed to create an environment for industry, academia and the community to better collaborate, to innovate, and to drive the advances so essential to our transforming economy,” Professor Terry says.

“Greater Curtin incorporates the elements that we know are critical to delivering on the vision of transforming the campus into a vibrant innovation ecosystem:transport accessibility; student and other short-term accommodation, meeting facilities and appropriate retail.

“Add to the mix an industry engaged, collaborative university and you have all the ingredients that we hope will attract our partners and collaborators to co- locate with us on campus.

“Universities need to play a critical part in creating a connected innovation ecosystem, at the same time as providing students with a rich and engaging campus environment that helps to build their graduate capabilities.”

The current master plan is designed to deliver on the University’s vision of being a leader in this respect. At the same time, it should provide students with the experiences that will position them for future success, through their use of new co-working spaces, entrepreneurial opportunities, and links with researchers and partners.

Western Australia seems the perfect place to make this happen.

We all know Western Australia as the hub of Australia’s resources industry. Even in the current resources downturn, which now seems to be reversing, the sector plays a vital role in the Western Australian economy.

Yet, in the downturn, other industries have come to the fore that are fully aligned with the University’s research and innovation goals.

“Curtin is on an impressive upward trajectory. We want to build on this position in the future. We have built up significant strengths in science and engineering, many of which involve deep and long- standing industry partnerships.

“Our strengths align with the major pillars of WA’s economy, including both resources and agriculture, and we pride ourselves on being collaborative and easy for industry to interact with.”

Curtin is also broadening its research profile beyond its traditional areas of strength.

“We have major capabilities across a wide range of areas, including those that are so critical to our future, such as digital agriculture; defence and international security; big data; applied economics; clinical health trials, and a leading involvement in one of the 21st century’s largest scientific projects, the Square Kilometre Array.

Curtin has a strong partnership with Bankwest through the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, now a well-regarded economic think tank located within the University’s Faculty of Business and Law.

The University also hosts Innovation Central Perth, which connects companies with technology solutions and subject- matter experts from Cisco, and research expertise and intellectual property from Curtin, Woodside and Data61.

The collaboration is designed to deliver digital and data-driven solutions to business imperatives and challenges.

Curtin’s other partners are broad and include Alcoa, The Cancer Foundation, Fremantle Dockers, NASA, BHP and Woodside.

BHP and Woodside are more traditional resource industry partners and have worked closely with Curtin’s Western Australian School of Mines, which Professor Terry says is an important part of the University.

Established in 1902, the WA School of Mines has recently been ranked number two in the world on the QS World University Rankings for Mineral and Mining Engineering. The Colorado School of Mines currently holds top spot.

The School is based at both the University’s Perth and Kalgoorlie campuses and has a very strong alumni group that provides the School with enormous support.

L-R Nathan Currie, Jennay Webster, Gina Staples, Casey Thornton
Curtin University

“In times of downturn we work hard to get the message out that it is time to train in metallurgy and other disciplines to be ready for the resources upturn.

“In order to support the entire resources sector in WA, the School has recently been expanded to include chemical and petroleum engineering and minerals and engineering economics, as well as the traditional areas of mining engineering, metallurgy and exploration geophysics.

“The broad resources sector remains incredibly important and Curtin is a major player in providing graduates into the sector. For instance, we train a very significant proportion of Australia’s mining engineers.”

More recently, the Curtin Medical School was established. The School offers a five-year Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree, the only undergraduate entry program available in Western Australia.

A new five storey building on the University’s Perth Campus was designed to facilitate the training of a new generation of doctors.

And the State Government is also contributing $22 million for a major Clinical School to be established on a site near the St John of God Midland Public Hospital.

“Our School of Law is also relatively new and aligns with the overall Curtin mission – to provide students with the skills and experiences they need to be successful in their chosen careers. The Law School is one of Australia’s few city-based law schools. Housed in a heritage- listed building with the John Curtin Law Clinic and Murray Chambers and surrounded by all of the city’s major courts and statutory authorities, the value proposition for students is clear.

The big picture here is easy to see: innovation through campus development.

“What we are seeking to do through this campus development is work closely with industry to deliver the best outcomes for our students and to ensure that we, as a major centre of research, strengthen our position as a core driver of the knowledge economy.

“But the focus is much broader than the WA and the nation.”

Through its partnerships and international reach, the focus is providing students with the perspective and experiences that they need to be successful in the global labour market.

Curtin is taking a very forward- looking approach to creating a global network of campuses and major sites, spanning the Indian Ocean rim and including Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai and Mauritius, in addition major research partnerships in China and a deep and productive alliance with the University of Aberdeen.

“Curtin has always been innovative and collaborative and as we look to be even more industry relevant and engaged in the future, we are working to ensure that this culture of innovation pervades not only our approach to research and collaboration, but also to the student experience,” Professor Terry says.

The Master Plan isn’t the beginning, the middle or end, it is what is needed currently to put Curtin in a position to capitalise on its relationships, further its global standing and give students the best possible learning experience available.”



Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.


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