Education & Professional Development Programmes: It's All about Team Work; Hayley Barnett Looks at How Business and Academia Can Work Together More Effectively. Both Academics and Business Leaders Say Maintaining an Equal Partnership Is the Key to New Zealand's Long-Term Success

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Byline: Hayley Barnett

Building a strong relationship between business and academia isn't an easy task, with both academics and business leaders saying they need to find better ways of bridging the gap.

The need for post-graduate business courses to stay up-to-date and relevant with real world requirements is a constant challenge, but academics say it swings both ways. They believe businesses need to focus on applying research-based information to their practices if we are to see any real progress.

University of Auckland business school professor Brad Jackson, who is the Fletcher Building Education Trust Chair in Leadership, says the two can learn from each other, but business leaders need to recognise that universities play a vital role in everyday business.

"The business people I've interacted with have this image of what a university is about and are sometimes reluctant to engage with us because they assume it is irrelevant, that it's detached and archaic. What I always try to say is give us a chance. At least give us an audience, and tell us what your issues are."

Jackson says a key factor in bridging the gap is developing a stronger dialogue which needs to happen on a regular basis.

"It should be a cyclical process," says Jackson. "It's not a question of us coming down from the mountain with our research and saying this is the way you should do it -- you'd get laughed out of town. What we can bring to the table is that we are plugged into a whole range of discussions about business issues around the world that managers might not be as privy to. We have a sense of the issues that are emerging and possible solutions and we can relate that to the New Zealand context."

He says the majority of business leaders who meet and share their knowledge with students often walk away feeling like they've learned something themselves.

"It's not necessarily about giving us money, it's about time," he says. "Students are their future employees. We look for a dialogue where we can talk about issues that we're facing and also talk about the world they're in and what we can do to help and assist. But also we're there to challenge as well. We're the critics of society so I think it's important to be able to say look, what you're doing could be done better and vice versa -- they need to tell us that too. It does need to be seen as an equal partnership."

Canterbury University MBA director Peter Cammock agrees, saying more businesses need to involve themselves with education providers.

"It's about collaboration and bringing together the inspiration of cutting-edge research with the pragmatism of real world management," says Cammock.

"That means greater dialogue between people who teach in universities and practising managers. A lot of that can happen in a classroom setting where business people come into a classroom and the academic is able to offer good research-based material and then the business leaders can bring their experience into it. Out of that can come an understanding that is beneficial for both worlds."

Leadership New Zealand deputy chair Tony Nowell's clustering theory suggests that if New Zealand universities and businesses learn to collaborate, then we can develop our scale to take on large global markets more effectively. …