Thinking like entrepreneurs

USC Head of School of Business, Professor Mike Clements

Planned to serve the growing population needs of the area, Sunshine Coast University College welcomed its first students through the door in February 1996 – and it’s been rapid growth ever since. Full university status was granted well ahead of schedule, officially becoming the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) by January of 1999,
with year-on-year growth in students and strong reputation globally.

USC is now one of the fastest developing universities in the country with an 11% growth in student enrolments from 2015 to 2016 and a master plan to have 20,000 students by 2020.

That sort of growth is not just a result of population demand. USC is a choice university amongst students for its ability to prepare them for life in the real world – particularly in the School of Business.

“We’re a five-star teaching university as per the Good Universities Guide, and I think that shows the focus that we have,” explains USC Head of School of Business, Professor Mike Clements.

“Students get personal attention and interaction with lecturers and that’s in some part due to our small size; it’s a very connected experience.”

While a student having a positive experience at a university is a genuine benefit, the ultimate objective will always be to receive an education that will help them get a job, and equip them for life in the workforce.

“I think the focus of all institutions is to transfer the learning of a workplace into the context of a classroom,” says Mike.  “You can only do that if you can connect students to the challenges of the modern workplace – and that’s a real focus for USC. Early on in their learning journey we make sure students are connected and have exposure to the challenges of the modern workplace, and therefore they can optimise the learning at university.

“We want students to know why they are learning what they’re learning and where that will take them. I think that’s important because that provides some real focus.”

This concept is incredibly challenging when you consider how fast the world is evolving; however, Mike believes that current students have the capability to deal with such changes.

“This is a generation of early adopters. With the right education they have the ability to adapt to the challenges as they present and move with the changes as they occur.”

As Mike notes, the business world is radically changing with the likes of digital disruption, automation, globalisation and advanced logistics having significant effects on the labour market. Furthermore, businesses are also more ethically aware of the social and environmental impact of their activities – all contributing to a vibrant business world where leaders will need to adapt and grow at short notice.

Utilising that ‘early adopter’ mindset, Mike says the key is encouraging students to think like entrepreneurs.

“A change of pace creates opportunities with the right mindset. I think it’s important to help students identify those opportunities and adapt their skills to maximise their input to fill the gaps in the markets. There certainly are changing times ahead but I think that presents opportunity.”
Encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset is undoubtedly positive; but how do you teach that to students who haven’t even entered the workforce?

“We bring the challenges of the current business environment into the learning context,” Mike explains. “Firstly, we bring it to the classroom through relevant and current case studies. Then we introduce it in practice by immersing students in the workplace and, where we can, in the global industry context.

“Our lecturers are highly engaged with industry and I think this ensures that the course content is continually revitalised and that’s important to ensure there’s relevance to real world issues. While we teach classic business theories we also use practical examples and case studies in the curriculum to engage with industry where possible. These amplify and demonstrate the importance of theory in action.”

The next element, says Mike, is to build resilience; a fundamental trait in successful business people everywhere. This comes from reinforcing the importance of “lifelong learning” where the student takes the skills and knowledge of the classroom, and learns to adapt it in context for the future. In doing so, students remain competitive in the changing environment and can move confidently with industry challenges.

“It’s about producing graduates that can contribute to society with their strong theroretical , ethical and social awareness and have a well-developed entrepreneurial mindset to solve the issues that crop up everyday in the business environment.  For me it’s also about helping students to realise their own goals, through developing confidence with their newly acquired knowledge and putting those skills into building a strong and fulfilling career.

“I want students to look at what they need to be able to solve and then adapt that thinking to be able to solve real problems. Overall, it’s developing an entrepreneurial mindset and I think that will help students become self-starters, embrace challenges as opportunities, and develop in themselves a passion and resilience to achieve their goals.”

In an era where students can gain qualifications from all over the world at a click of a button, it is reassuring to see an institution that focuses so clearly on real world experience. The days of an employer hiring someone from a piece of paper are long gone – the business world is looking for future leaders and people who can apply learnings in an ever-changing world. And that is what USC is offering. BFM

The heart of the USC campus at Sippy Downs on the Sunshine Coast combines contemporary, award winning architecture and a generous amount of open, green space enjoyed by students throughout the year.

Jonathan Jackson is an experienced editor and writer who has worked in print and digital media for almost 20 years.

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