By DAVID MYTON

To thrive in this complex world business and industry need to be in a state of constant adaptation as they innovate and develop new products and services.

And today’s employees need to be flexible and to posses a blend of ever-changing skill-sets.

How can anyone realistically prepare to engage in this ever-evolving landscape?

“The world is shifting and at great speed,” says Professor Louise McWhinnie, Dean of UTS’s Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation – established 18 months ago with a mission “to engage internally across the university and externally industry, government and not-for-profit with issues of modernity and complexity”.

“Disciplines are also changing – for example, what a lawyer does now, in three years they will still be a lawyer but how they operate and the challenges they face may change the way in which they work,” adds McWhinnie, who previously served as Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning within the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at UTS for nine years.

“Many professions today require people with the ability to work with and across more than one singular discipline.

“We are dealing with complexity.”

She notes that the World Economic Forum has pointed out that “in many industries across countries, the most in demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago”.

All this means students need to be equipped with a new array of not just skills, but also  attributes – and the ability to segue smoothly from one conceptual challenge to the next.

 

Capabilities highly valued in the globalised world

To meet these challenges UTS is in its fifth year of offering the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation – a combined degree that encompasses critical and creative thinking, invention, complexity, innovation, scenario building and entrepreneurship: capabilities highly valued in the globalised world.

The double degree involves students also taking in parallel one of 25 of the university’s top core degrees in accelerated delivery, with time to completion just one year longer than for a standard single degree.

Among other programs the Faculty offers are a Bachelor of Technology and Innovation, a Diploma in Innovation, a Masters of Data Science and Innovation and a Master of Animation and Visualisation, co-designed and developed at the UTS Animal Logic Academy – a collaboration with leading creative animation and VFX production studio Animal Logic.

“The Faculty programs and research deal with complexity. Complexity requires transdisciplinarity – and through the act of being transdisciplinary innovation comes about,” McWhinnie says.

The university has 1800-plus academic staff “who have immense depth of knowledge and working together enables us to explore new ways to solve complex problems”.

 

A new way to solve complex problems

The degree has resonated with students: within three years the double-degree offering is the second most applied number of UTS course applications behind the Bachelor of Business, with 1082 students now enrolled across courses in the Faculty.

“The response, quite frankly, has been extraordinary,” McWhinnie says.

“It is recognition by the students that change is coming, and they want to shape that change, not simply play catch-up with it.”

It’s not just the students who are looking to the future and seeing new challenges. Parents are too:

“We were surprised how quickly many parents came to talk to us, saying they wanted their children to undertake this, because the parents work in industry and see the change that is already here, not just coming in the future.

“They want their children to be not only prepared for that but to be part of it, to be adaptable, and to have the ability to be able to think across streams.”

 

‘Some of these jobs didn’t exist four years ago’

The Faculty held its first graduation ceremony in May, at which the first 100 students graduated.

McWhinnie had the opportunity to talk to some of them.

“I was asking not only what they were doing, but what some of their job titles are,” she says.

“Some of these jobs didn’t exist four years ago when they commenced their degree.”

Their job titles include:

  • Connection Maker
  • Experience Design Consultant
  • Design and Innovation Consultant
  • Innovation and Digital Solutions Analyst
  • Entrepreneur,
  • Co-Founder
  • Transformation Designer

The Faculty works closely with business and industry in delivering the degree – with 91 per cent of all its subjects having an industry partner – and students work with industry to solve real-world problems.

There are some 458 industry partnerships with the faculty, and the number is growing.

“They offer internships, they come in and work with us, they work with the students and with our academics, they work on the subjects,” says McWhinnie.

“Industry are engaged in delivering a problem and working with the students and academics on exploring new challenges. We’re finding that it’s very much to the benefit of industry to have access to such emergent thinking, not just to the benefit of the students.

“Our partners bring challenges to the students who are giving them a very fresh and different approach – they get access to a future generation’s thinking.”

 

‘A great way to inject fresh thinking ’

There is a sense that industry learns from the students as much as the students learn from them, she adds, with one business leader declaring that working with the students was “a great way to inject fresh thinking into your organisation while supporting a future generation to prepare for the world of work”.

McWhinnie says many BCII graduates and students are very social aware.

“They’re not all people who just want to be entrepreneurs or launch their own start-up,” she says.

“They have a great desire to help to bring about social change, and want to work in socially aware organisations.”

For example, many are concerned about sustainability and desire to bring positive change in this area. Check out this video to see what they are thinking and doing.

“We have been delighted to discover just how much they do want to bring about social change. They truly feel they have a responsibility to people, ethics, the planet and to make things right and to contribute to that. That’s incredibly refreshing and it’s not always the picture that the media gives of this generation.”

 

‘A field without precedent’

Work will continue on developing the BCII and all other new courses in the light of feedback from students and industry partners.

“This is a field without precedent,” says McWhinnie. “We’re constantly developing and thinking through new practices and new methodologies.

“All of the feedback and knowledge that we are gaining from working this closely with industry filters straight back into the course. It’s ongoing – and it results in an incredibly fresh and relevant set of subjects, courses and student experience because of that.”

Meanwhile, McWhinnie and her team plan to further develop the Faculty’s research capacity and to increase collaboration across the university.

“We are teaching and learning focused, but also research focused. We’re launching our own PhD and masters research programs – there’s a great deal of interest in research.

“Industry are also interested the potential research in this area, because that’s where they’ve seen where the future is.”