Teaching and Learning Forum 96 [ Contents ]
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Who's wagging the dog? University and industry

Allan Herrmann, Bob Fox and Anna Boyd
Teaching Learning Group
Curtin University of Technology


'Australian Universities are confronted by a series of related pressures: .....more direct competition with other domestic and international universities and the TAFE sector for the school leaver market, and with professional bodies and with work-place based programs for those seeking career upgrading or re-accreditation; ' (Coaldrake 1995 p.38)
Universities can react in any of three ways to this situation. They can: In either the second or third option, universities may be venturing into relatively uncharted waters. The competitive or commercial environment provides a range of operational parameters quite new and in many cases contrary to the traditional styles of university provision. While the university/commercial-industry interface is not new, it has until recently focused on research and development and technology transfer activities. However, the relationships have now been expanded to embrace the provision by universities of education and training specifically designed to meet the needs of industries on a fee for service basis. This in itself creates the possibility of a number of dilemmas which is compounded by the credentialling role of the universities becoming more closely associated with the process.

Approaches to industry training

A number of models (not mutually exclusive) for university/industry training provision can be identified, including: In each of these approaches certain dilemmas greet university staff. Often commercial expediency pushes these dilemmas into the "back seat". However, unless they are clearly identified and openly discussed, the ethical position of the participants, particularly the university and its staff, is open to debate (Kenney, 1987). Because of greater experience and the nature of the "property", the situation with technology transfer/research and development, is not as ambiguous; but a brief review of the literature shows that, even in that context, there is still a serious debate underway (Lee & Gaertner, 1994; Zolla-Pazner, 1994; Normile, 1993; Deutch, 1991).

The stakeholders

To begin to address the dilemmas we must first identify the stakeholders and their roles and interests. These may include:

employeesstudentssuccessful completion, certification
university teaching staffcontent specialist/tutorownership of intellectual property, knowledge gatekeeper, student supporter, financial returns
educational development staffinstructional developmentinstructional quality
university commercial arm staffbroker, negotiator, administratorcommercial success, quality outcomes, balancing stakeholders requirements
employers/industry groupsstaff skills/knowledge developmentcost effectiveness, productivity gains
governmentpublic funder, regulatorpublic interest, development of entrepreneurial approaches
Commonwealth funded studentspeers, competitorsequity, and access to opportunities
professional bodies/unionsprofessional/award gatekeepersmaintenance of professional standards, preventing erosion of status and rewards and accreditation

Each has its own agenda and desired outcomes. The specific dilemmas arise from conflicting perceptions.

Specific Context

In order to explore certain dilemmas in a context, the authors have selected a specific example of a university/industry-employer interface. In this example, a large corporation with some successful, previous experiences working with the educational institution, expressed its desire for the University to provide 'a Diploma' tailored for its staff.

The corporation specified 198 'items' it required to have included in the diploma's curriculum. The institution considered the items and agreed to adapt and combine various existing accredited units. The eight units synthesised, were made up of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, customised to specifically fit the industry/employer requirements. A certificate course made up of four modules and later five, included 95% of industry requirements. Links between the industry specified items required, and the institution's existing accredited courses was maintained to ensure that the new certificate's accreditation as an officially recognised university qualification was upheld. Indeed, two other Australian Universities immediately recognised the course as equivalent to six months full time study towards an undergraduate degree course of similar study and another three Universities are considering the certificate for recognition.

In addition to the specified curriculum, the industry managers defined the required course outcomes in behavioural terms. The managers stated that the course will:

Industry specified the amount of time it wanted its staff to work on these modules as 'three to four hours per week over 16 weeks per module'. In comparison with standard University workload and credit point benchmarks, the industry study load expectations were considerably lower. This however was weighed against the fact that participants expected to have already acquired much of the information/skills covered during their work experiences within the organisation. And after the successful completion of the first module, the University was able to increase the stated study time/workload to between five and eight hours per week. However, the industry/employer staff continued to expect, in general, the study time per module to be maintained at three to four hours per week. This dilemma is explored further in a later section of this paper.

Industry proposed that four weeks should be adequate for the University to rewrite/adapt the materials from the eight existing units. The industry managers also requested that the draft course details would be sent to the industry for approval. However, time ran out and the draft modules, developed by the University were accepted without revision or industry amendment/final approval.

An evaluation process, managed by the course development team was included to ensure continuous monitoring of relevance and standards of the course and to ensure appropriate academic and administrative support from the institution was maintained.

The industry/employer also specified it wanted the course delivered in the distance mode with the institution staff providing 'study guides, handbooks, textbooks, audio tapes and other materials, and two one-day tutorials per module' in each industry centre, 'depending upon numbers enrolled'. In particular the combination of print, audio tape and 'email communication' was requested. All company staff, managers stated, had their own 'lap-top computers with connections to the Internet'. In practice, however, connectivity to the institution proved too difficult and the use of email was dropped from the list of requested media to be used.


The dilemmas chosen for further consideration in this paper are student study patterns, academic background and assignment submissions and turnaround time.

Student Study Pattern

In this particular scenario, the industry involved set a limit on the number of hours the participants should spend studying. This figure of three to four hours per week was below that anticipated by some of the academics involved. Although the stated study load was reduced to that required by industry, the question still remained how real was this apparent reduction? If the students chose to study longer hours perhaps they were dedicated, or on the other hand were having trouble - the lecturer had no control over this. Obviously, different students take different lengths of time to complete course activities and it is perhaps not the study time taken that is important but whether the student attains the desired outcomes. In the three modules evaluated so far, between a quarter and a half of the respondents to questionnaires spent more than five hours per week studying. Given research which found that students tend to underestimate time spent in study (Chambers, 1992) this figure is probably much higher. Most of the course participants indicated that their industry workload caused most problems with their study. Initially most participants indicated that they were not able to negotiate any study time at work (given that industry expectations were that the module study time should only be taking them three to four hours per week).

Academic background

As only a minority of the course participants had previously had any experience in studying at the higher education level, it was realised that study skills support would be required. This support was provided in several ways. Initially a compulsory Learning Skills Workshop was held in each of the industry centres. Although most students found them useful, small numbers (fewer than 10 per site) dictated that it was uneconomical for University staff to be flown around the country and for this reason video conferencing of the workshops was instigated in the second semester of the course. In addition to the workshops, a Learning Skills booklet was produced and distributed to each participant beginning the course.

Because of the participants' diverse educational backgrounds it was difficult, albeit impossible, to pitch the study skills support at the 'right' level for all. Some participants wanted the Learning Skills workshop to be in more depth, some wanted less depth, some wanted it to be longer, some wanted it shorter and some did not want it at all and for this reason the workshop was made voluntary.

This was equally a problem with the academic content. Universities normally only accept specific groups who are 'filtered' through various gatekeeper devises, for example, Tertiary Admissions Centre requirements, but in courses involving industry, anyone that the industry nominates may be eligible for enrolment. Given that the organisation involved in this case wanted the course to give rise to a university credited qualification which could also be cross credited, the academic standards needed to be maintained. Finding the appropriate level of academic rigour is difficult. In several of the modules studied those with TAFE qualifications or a Year 12 education were happy with the level of prior knowledge assumed, while those with a higher education qualification or a Year 10 education were less happy. This may suggest that the material was too basic for those with higher qualifications and too difficult and new for those with limited prior education. Given that basic standards need to be maintained the only real options would be to provide more exemptions (which the organisation seemed reluctant to do) or extension work. This in turn makes more work for all concerned and the question is do those participants with higher education qualifications want to be extended and fulfilled or just to pass? A number of the participants did question the relevance of the material in the various modules and its role in helping to improve their professional performance (which is an underlying aim of the company in sponsoring their employees on the course), but as would be expected of such a heterogeneous group, gender, age, education and work history all had an impact on their various needs and expectations.

Assignment Submission and Turnaround Times

Assignment submission can be a difficult issue in traditional university courses and units, in determining how flexible to be and how many excuses to accept for late work. In a course involving industry where the participants are all working full-time, many with high workloads and many who travel as part of their job, the academic staff involved tended to be quite lenient with assignment submission dates. While a number of the course participants indicated that this flexibility had been essential for them to complete the modules so far, an equal number of participants noted that they felt that it was unfair that others were allowed longer time to complete their assignments after some students had struggled to get their assignments in on time. In addition, accepting assignments over a longer period of time meant that the turnaround time for marked assignments increased to an unacceptable level in the students eyes and added confusion to tutorials and study sessions as different students were attempting different assignments. Again, there is no easy solution.

Final Note

At the end of the first wave of students completing the two year program, the industry/employer has to decide whether to proceed with a new set of course participants. As key components of the course are becoming available through a cheaper option - open learning, the industry needs to decide whether the more customised program provided is the most suitable, given the extra costs. At this point in time, in mid-December, the industry/employer has not informed the university if it intends to continue to sponsor the course into 1996-97 and on this note, it is plain to see who indeed is wagging the dog!


Chambers, E. A. (1992). Workload and the quality of student learning. In Studies in Higher Education, 17(2), pp.141-153.

Coaldrake, P. (1995). Implications for HE of public sector reform agenda. In The Australian University's Review, 38, 1.

Deutch, J. M. (1991). Getting university-industry relations right. Technology Review, 94(4), 65.

Kenney, M. (1987). The ethical dilemmas of university-industry collaborations. Journal of Business Ethics, 6, 127.

Lee, Y. & Gaertner, R. (1994). Technology transfer from university to industry: A large-scale experiment with technology development and commercialisation. Policy Studies Journal, 22(2), 384.

Normile, D. (1993). Breaching industry-university barriers. Science, 260, 114.

Zolla-Pazner, S. (1994). The professor, the university and industry. Scientific American, 270(3), 120.

Please cite as: Herrmann, A., Fox, R. and Boyd, A. (1996). Who's wagging the dog? University and industry In Abbott, J. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Teaching and Learning Within and Across Disciplines, p73-78. Proceedings of the 5th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1996. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/herrmann.html

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