With less than 40% of PhD graduates securing employment in academia, graduates need to be equipped with the skills to give them a competitive advantage when seeking jobs in industry and government. In response, ECU designed and trialled iPREP WA in 2014 before establishing it as an interuniversity program in 2015.
iPREP WA seeks to address concerns of limited collaboration between universities and industry in Australia. These concerns are highlighted in the poor collaboration ranking Australia has with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The program educates both PhD graduates and industries on the value of research engagement, by providing a platform for organisations to engage in low risk research activities.
iPREP WA involves interdisciplinary teams of PhD students, from all five Western Australian universities, working on a six week project for an industry partner during their thesis examination period. To date, iPREP WA has worked with 20 industry partners from business, government and community, across 28 projects. Industry partners include Water Corporation, Department of Health, Exxon Mobil, CBH Group, Bombora Wave Power, and Southern Cross Care.
Participants engage with expert guest speakers who deliver seminars on topics including project management, leadership, and problem solving. To encourage the development of industry knowledge and skills, student teams take part in a project mentored by an industry partner where they work towards providing a solution to a business problem.
iPREP WA projects focus on solving authentic workplace problems for industry. Beyond its immediate benefits, there is potential for iPREP WA to have a long-term impact on the career development of PhD graduates, and also for building strong relationships between universities and businesses. iPREP WA encourages collaboration through fostering strong relationships.
Industry partners benefit from value-for-money consultancy, innovative solutions to business problems, increased engagement with all five universities to optimise knowledge translation from research outcomes, and the potential to recruit outstanding PhD graduates. Industry partners reported receiving expert, unbiased consultation from the researchers. All businesses have reported cost savings as a result of the project.
PhD candidates reported gaining greater and more diverse career opportunities through developing skills in business management, problem solving and project management, as well as experience in interdisciplinary teamwork and leadership. 86 students have taken part in the program, with ten students securing employment and continued work from their iPREP WA placement.
CITIC Pacific Mining: Students worked on a solution for corrosion at CITIC Pacific Mining’s desalination plant. Through the iPREP WA program, the students benefitted from hands on experience, as well as mentoring from business leaders. CITIC Pacific Mining General Manager Patrick Lee told Business News the students provided a “fresh set of eyes” on the business problem.
Bombora Wave Power: iPREP WA participants worked with Bombora Wave Power to develop a way to monitor the performance of the underwater-pumps used to generate electricity. The student team had an opportunity to develop their strategic problem solving skills, and also to apply their technical capabilities while working on the project. Bombora Wave Power Executive Director Shawn Ryan reported that the company received more than $100,000 worth of consulting hours through the iPREP WA project.
iPREP WA was implemented by ECU in 2015, with an agreement signed in October by all five WA universities to commit to three rounds of iPREP WA per year for five years. ECU was nominated as the managing institute on the agreement in recognition of their instrumental role in bringing together the five universities to collaborate on this unique program to support industry engagement.
ECU was also awarded an Office of Learning and Teaching grant in November 2015 to study the long-term impacts of iPREP WA and the potential for making it a national program.