Universities must foster a culture of innovation in order to build the knowledge economies that are vital to growth in the Asia Pacific region, leading international academics said today.
Education experts from Australia, Thailand and Singapore told delegates at the inaugural In The Zone conference at The University of Western Australia that higher education was critical in addressing the challenges of a globalised world.
They said that creativity in research and collaboration between researchers and industry would underpin the importance of knowledge as a principal driver of growth.
Professor Alan Robson, Vice-Chancellor of UWA, said that in addition to a highly developed education system that was capable of producing flexible and creative workers, a vital and healthy science base and technological capability were vital ingredients for a culture of innovation.
"Adaptation, flexibility, imagination and innovation are the contemporary watchwords for business and universities today," Professor Robson said. "Knowledge is becoming increasingly important as a driver of growth."
"A knowledge economy grows out of a culture of innovation, which so far only a number of nations have been able to propagate."
Professor Robson said that universities such as The University of Western Australia were redefining their roles and refreshing course offerings in response to the increasing importance of knowledge economies.
He said that in Australia attention was being given to how Australian degrees compared internationally. UWA's new course structure involves five broad undergraduate degree programs (science, arts, commerce, design and a Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours)) before students focus on more specific pursuits in postgraduate study.
"This will strengthen the breadth of education," Professor Robson said, adding that the new course structure emphasised the value of research, which was highly relevant in globalised economies.
He said international linkages, and linkages between the university and corporate sectors, would continue to be critical in the new world order.
Professor Howard Hunter, President of the Singapore Management University, said current higher education challenges in the Asian zone included international competition for faculty and an emphasis on discipline-based rather than location-based work structures.
Professor Hunter said tertiary institutions needed to be flexible and adaptable, taking a holistic or interdisciplinary view of issues and research.
Associate Professor Varakorn Samakoses, Former Deputy Minister of Education in Thailand, highlighted the need for a greater variety of programs for international students.
Professor John Hay AC, Chair of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, raised the increasing problems of higher student-staff ratios, funding and the provision of infrastructure, particularly IT as core challenges for universities in the education revolution.
IN THE ZONE is a major public policy conference initiated by The University of Western Australia positioning Western Australia as a thought leader within the time zone it shares with 60 per cent of the world's population and the nations which promise the greatest economic growth for the 21st century.
2009 marks the inaugural IN THE ZONE Conference. This will become a biennial event and a strategic meeting point for the Australian and wider regional community to engage in dialogue about the zone we inhabit and to deepen the policy, trade and investment relationships.
Information about In the Zone, including the conference program: http://www.zone.uwa.edu.au
NB: MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES MUST REGISTER TO COVER THE CONFERENCE. GO TO: http://www.zone.uwa.edu.au/news/media_registration