A new global economy

Are we entering a new industrial revolution?

An image of the earth at night

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Humanity’s instinct for innovation has changed the course of history and driven progress for thousands of years, from the first human-made fire to the therapeutic innovations that have helped us overcome disease and disorder.

While human hubris has perhaps taken a hit in the pandemic, it has also created an opportunity to challenge entrenched approaches right across our economy and society.

For instance, the pandemic has accelerated the evolving industrial trends of recent years – with all manner of services becoming increasingly automated, online and non-contact. Remote working arrangements have also become status quo for people around the world.

As a result, the pandemic has fast-tracked the progress of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where the convergence of physical, digital and biological innovation is heralding widespread social, political, cultural and economic change.

In our first ever ChangeMakers event on 20 August, we heard from expert alumni and UQ’s Vice-Chancellor and President on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Australia’s outlook for a changing future.  

Image of an office building at night time

Photo by Chirag Saini on Unsplash

Photo by Chirag Saini on Unsplash

Disrupting the narrative

Beyond the familiar sandstone walls of The University of Queensland (UQ), an engine room of innovation has been driving UQ research into hugely successful industry ventures for decades.

While UQ is perhaps best known for its roots in traditional academia, it also houses the best biomedical education in Australia, as well as the country’s strongest track-record with university-based commercialisation, with over $38 billion in global sales of products that contain UQ technology.

Leading the charge is Dr Dean Moss, CEO of UQ’s technology transfer company, UniQuest. Dr Moss first joined UQ as a PhD student in 1988 after attending UQ’s Open Day with his brother, Steve Moss, who was a member of faculty. Dr Moss then returned in 2005 after successfully exiting his UK-based start-up. Today, he has been with UniQuest for 15 years, the last eight as CEO.

Image of UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss

UniQuest CEO, Dr Dean Moss

UniQuest CEO, Dr Dean Moss

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced universities to not only rethink how they deliver education, but also their funding models.

UniQuest’s strong track record in technology transfer and commercialisation presents a platform for hope for UQ. This record of successful commercialisation includes Gardasil®, the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine; the Triple P-Positive Parenting Program; and the world’s first encapsulated probiotic drink, PERKii®.

“UniQuest has returned over $670m to the University from commercialisation, with one standout being our start-up Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, which developed a candidate drug for the treatment of chronic pain and was subsequently acquired by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis for $AUD 1 billion. It is the biggest biotech deal in Australia and the most successful venture capital exit in Australian history,” Dr Moss said.

“The University is particularly strong in biomedical science, and I think we’ve demonstrated a capability – enabled through UniQuest – to translate research outcomes into global impacts which are societal, environmental and economic.

“Being able to do world-class research is one thing, but being able to translate it into outcomes for broader society is the real goal. I think UQ has a capability to translate world-class research in a way that very few can match.”

Dr Moss’s most recent focus has been supporting the acceleration of a potential UQ COVID-19 vaccine.

UQ has a strong history in vaccine development. Of course, the University’s labs were the origin of the Gardasil® vaccine, which took 15 years to develop from patent filing to regulatory approval and has saved millions of lives across the world. It is also pioneering needle-free, micro array patch-based vaccine delivery technology through the UniQuest start-up, Vaxxas.

The stakes are much higher, however, when it comes to the rapid development of UQ’s promising COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

 “The thing that’s different for this vaccine is the whole setting for it. Given we’re in the midst of a pandemic, the scale and urgency of it are just colossal,” Moss said.

 “The geopolitical implications are really, really significant with the vaccine project because it will determine the health of millions of people and the state of the global economy,” he said.

This is a time pressure that has necessitated innovation in even the most fundamental processes in vaccine development, according to Moss.

“In conventional vaccine development, you prepare a candidate vaccine, you test in animals, and if it’s effective in animal models, you then do some preclinical toxicology and look to scale-up the manufacture so that you can produce enough doses to do a first-in-human trial,” Moss said.

“Those are sequential steps. But with UQ’s COVID-19 vaccine, we scaled manufacture to support a clinical trial in parallel with the animal and toxicity studies, so that if these studies were positive, we could go immediately into a clinical trial.

“We are the first university to do this. We’ve disrupted the normal vaccine development process to take up to six months off the timeline.”

Image of COVID-19 vaccine researcher in the lab
Image of nurse about to administer UQ's COVID-19 vaccine in human trial

UQ's promising COVID-19 vaccine

UQ's promising COVID-19 vaccine

Critical to the project’s speed has been the extent of collaboration across the University, as well as the profound impact of the wider UQ network. More than 2600 members of UQ’s alumni, donor and corporate community stepped forward to financially support the acceleration project, committing over $10.5 million. Together with the Queensland Government and the Australian Government, and the support of CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), UQ has accumulated over $23.5 million to accelerate the project.

Image of COVID-19 vaccine researchers (x, x, Professor Paul Young, Associate Professor Keith Chappel, Professor Trent Munro) in the lab

UQ's COVID-19 vaccine project researchers

UQ's COVID-19 vaccine project researchers

This convergence of talent, ideas and money are the essential ingredients of innovation according to Dr Moss, who hopes that UQ can leverage this approach in the future to solve many of society’s problems.

He urges alumni to see UQ as more than just their alma mater, but as a natural partner for enhancing their businesses as we navigate the challenges of industrial and economic change on a global scale.

A mind map drawing of an innovation workshop for UniQuest

UniQuest innovation workshop with Dr Sue Pillans

UniQuest innovation workshop with Dr Sue Pillans

According to a Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by Universities Australia, for every $1 invested in higher education research and development, there is a link to a $5 return to GDP.

“If you’re in industry and you’ve got a problem, you should look to UQ as a problem solver,” Moss said.

“That’s not just through products and services and technology. It’s through our graduates, our postdocs, research collaboration and our championing of entrepreneurship.

“We have brilliant minds and world-class facilities. The critical link for us is our reciprocal engagement with industry and UQ’s alumni community is the key to creating and fostering those relationships.”

Critical to the project’s speed has been the extent of collaboration across the University, as well as the profound impact of the wider UQ network. More than 2600 members of UQ’s alumni, donor and corporate community stepped forward to financially support the acceleration project, committing over $10.5 million. Together with the Queensland Government and the Australian Government, and the support of CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), UQ has accumulated over $23.5 million to accelerate the project.

Image of COVID-19 research team, Dr Daniel Watterson, Mrs Christina Henderson, Professor Paul Young, Associate Professor Keith Chappell, Professor Trent Munro in the lab

UQ's COVID-19 vaccine project researchers

UQ's COVID-19 vaccine project researchers

This convergence of talent, ideas and money are the essential ingredients of innovation according to Dr Moss, who hopes that UQ can leverage this approach in the future to solve many of society’s problems.

He urges alumni to see UQ as more than just their alma mater, but as a natural partner for enhancing their businesses as we navigate the challenges of industrial and economic change on a global scale.

A mind map drawing of an innovation workshop for UniQuest

UniQuest innovation workshop with Dr Sue Pillans

UniQuest innovation workshop with Dr Sue Pillans

According to a Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by Universities Australia, for every $1 invested in higher education research and development, there is a link to a $5 return to GDP.

“If you’re in industry and you’ve got a problem, you should look to UQ as a problem solver,” Moss said.

“That’s not just through products and services and technology. It’s through our graduates, our postdocs, research collaboration and our championing of entrepreneurship.

“We have brilliant minds and world-class facilities. The critical link for us is our reciprocal engagement with industry and UQ’s alumni community is the key to creating and fostering those relationships.”

A photo of Mr Andrew Liveris AO

Mr Andrew Liveris AO

Mr Andrew Liveris AO

Partnering to create change

When Mr Andrew N. Liveris AO was leading The Dow Chemical Company, the company’s risk management system ranked a pandemic as low-likelihood, high-impact.

For Liveris, the emergence of COVID-19 is an important lesson in the reality of ‘VUCA’ – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – in planning strategy for business. 

“This century has shown us that the tectonic trends that we have been living with since World War II are on an acceleration that is exponential,” Mr Liveris said.

“Through my 15-year tenure leading Dow, volatility and uncertainty were standard, and strategy changed. It became less about creating a fixed pathway to a ten-year plan, and more about creating a flexible strategy that could meet and overcome inevitable obstacles.

“Your vision for the company is the North Star, and like the navigators crossing those vast oceans, you’re going to encounter waves and storms, and you’re going to have to have the agility to pivot and take advantage of the strength of your team and vehicle,” he said.

Liveris says his ‘North Star’ at Dow was fostering better partnerships with researchers that would enable the company to move on from yesterday’s inventions and return Dow to its former glory as an innovation powerhouse.

Across his tenure, Liveris gathered 2,500 PhD qualified individuals within Dow’s operations to create his own utopia that brought together people with ideas and research expertise with the industry capabilities to scale them.

This is an approach he believes needs to be adopted on a national level, and has been a key outcome of his work with the Australian National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, which is creating a blueprint for Australia’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

In the past, Liveris has advised two US Presidents as well as governments in the UK, Argentina, Germany and now Australia on their manufacturing policy.

“We siloed all of our skillsets in the 20th century. While putting those skills together in some kind of frame isn’t easy, I’ve done it before, and that’s one of the recommendations we’ve given the Morrison Government,” Liveris said.

“We need top-down policy with a diversity in skillsets, where teams are created with representations from each silo and held accountable for outcomes.

“As a part of this, a public-private partnership model between industry, government, business and academia is needed to produce outcome-driven collaboration which brings together inventors with innovators,” he said.

These partnerships take time to develop, and Liveris argues the world’s myopic obsession with the ‘now’ forms a barrier to creating better public-private partnerships. 

“The world's attention span is shrinking: we are impatient and we love the moment; everything is breaking news,” Liveris said.

“It takes time to build a vision. The level of research and industry integration I achieved at Dow took over eight years to create. It is not something that can happen in the short term.”

It’s no surprise, then, that under Liveris’ leadership Dow became one of the world’s largest success stories, including the $130 billion merger between The Dow Chemical Company and DuPont to become DowDuPont in 2017.

A photo of Mr Andrew Liveris AO

Mr Andrew Liveris AO

Mr Andrew Liveris AO

Partnering to create change

When Mr Andrew N. Liveris AO was leading The Dow Chemical Company, the company’s risk management system ranked a pandemic as low-likelihood, high-impact.

For Liveris, the emergence of COVID-19 is an important lesson in the reality of ‘VUCA’ – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – in planning strategy for business. 

“This century has shown us that the tectonic trends that we have been living with since World War II are on an acceleration that is exponential,” Mr Liveris said.

Mr Andrew Liveris AO

“Through my 15-year tenure leading Dow, volatility and uncertainty were standard, and strategy changed. It became less about creating a fixed pathway to a ten-year plan, and more about creating a flexible strategy that could meet and overcome inevitable obstacles.

“Your vision for the company is the North Star, and like the navigators crossing those vast oceans, you’re going to encounter waves and storms, and you’re going to have to have the agility to pivot and take advantage of the strength of your team and vehicle,” he said.

Liveris says his ‘North Star’ at Dow was fostering better partnerships with researchers that would enable the company to move on from yesterday’s inventions and return Dow to its former glory as an innovation powerhouse.

Across his tenure, Liveris gathered 2,500 PhD qualified individuals within Dow’s operations to create his own utopia that brought together people with ideas and research expertise with the industry capabilities to scale them.

This is an approach he believes needs to be adopted on a national level, and has been a key outcome of his work with the Australian National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, which is creating a blueprint for Australia’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

In the past, Liveris has advised two US Presidents as well as governments in the UK, Argentina, Germany and now Australia on their manufacturing policy.

“We siloed all of our skillsets in the 20th century. While putting those skills together in some kind of frame isn’t easy, I’ve done it before, and that’s one of the recommendations we’ve given the Morrison Government,” Liveris said.

“We need top-down policy with a diversity in skillsets, where teams are created with representations from each silo and held accountable for outcomes.

“As a part of this, a public-private partnership model between industry, government, business and academia is needed to produce outcome-driven collaboration which brings together inventors with innovators,” he said.

These partnerships take time to develop, and Liveris argues the world’s myopic obsession with the ‘now’ forms a barrier to creating better public-private partnerships. 

“The world's attention span is shrinking: we are impatient and we love the moment; everything is breaking news,” Liveris said.

“It takes time to build a vision. The level of research and industry integration I achieved at Dow took over eight years to create. It is not something that can happen in the short term.”

It’s no surprise, then, that under Liveris’ leadership Dow became one of the world’s largest success stories, including the $130 billion merger between The Dow Chemical Company and DuPont to become DowDuPont in 2017.

In universities, Liveris sees the potential of a private-public partnership model as an opportunity for alumni to help shape Australia’s vision and bring expertise and promising research from a top-50 global university into market.

“Businesses can’t complain research isn’t working on problems they’re hoping to solve if they aren’t directly collaborating,” Liveris said.

“There’s an old adage: if you aren’t at the table, you can’t shape the menu.”

For those concerned about the future viability of their skills, Liveris is optimistic that for the predicted hundreds of millions of jobs that could be automated in the digitisation of supply chains, just as many ‘new collar’ jobs will emerge.

‘New collar’ jobs, a phrase coined by IBM Executive Chairman Ginni Rometty, refers to jobs in the technology industry that will require skills acquired through non-traditional education pathways.

“I don’t worry about the shrinking job market. For every robot on the factory floor, we will need jobs to manage those machines – a totally new type of worker,” Liveris said.

“The opportunity is in the skill of distilling data from machines and applying context to create solutions for business and humanity.

“For example, if you apply AI to an X-ray or MRI and it expresses a diagnosis based on all previous studies and cases in humanity, the doctor still has to interpret the findings and design an answer for the individual patient,” he said.

Liveris emphasises the potential of P-TECH learning, or schools with technology based curricula, in producing a generation equipped to manage the reality of advanced manufacturing.

“Education of the future is less about content and more about context,” Liveris said. 

“These P-TECH schools offer a high level of learning that teaches students to interpret insights at the machine-human interface, where the human role is still critical in translating data into outcomes.

“We have to be exquisite interpreters, analysers and designers of solutions for the problems of humanity,” he said.

Liveris’ passion for preparing this next generation of future leaders saw him recently establish the Andrew N. Liveris Academy for Innovation and Leadership at UQ.

The Liveris Academy is designed to cultivate the next generation of leaders with the capacity to address grand challenges at a time of dramatic socio-economic, technological and environmental change. In addition to hosting global leaders from industry, government, policy, and not-for-profit sectors, the Academy delivers a bespoke and highly-selective Liveris Scholar Program that provides scholarships and enrichment experiences to high-achieving undergraduate students with a focus on sustainability, global technologies and innovation, and digital transformation.

Esandi Kalugalage is one of the Academy’s talented Liveris Scholars. The first-year Bachelor of Engineering student already has a strong understanding of what the future workforce will require of her.

 “In my future career, I think I will need to collaborate and communicate more than engineers in the past. As a result of this new automated age, I’m noticing that workplaces and universities are focusing more on soft skills such as emotional intelligence, communication, and adaptability,” Kalugalage said.

“Through the Liveris Scholar Program, we’ve been given the opportunity to speak with business leaders from around the world and learn from their experiences. We’re also working on innovation projects and podcasts together as a team to put our learning in to practice.

“I think it’s very important to develop a broad skillset beyond just one area of technical speciality, because if you can develop the right skills to complement technology, that will be most helpful for where our future is heading,” she said.

Arial image of students walking up stairs at the Advanced Engineering Building

Education for the future

Like all industries, a fourth industrial revolution combined with a global pandemic will herald significant change for the university sector. This is a challenge that Professor Deborah Terry AO – the new Vice-Chancellor and President of UQ – is more than ready to meet.

Following her recent return to UQ, Professor Terry now has responsibility for steering the University through the pandemic, while also continuing the evolution of UQ’s educational programs so that graduates can thrive in a new industrial era.

Image of UQ's Vice Chancellor and President Professor Deborah Terry AO

UQ's Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Deborah Terry AO

UQ's Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Deborah Terry AO

“The COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to wipe between $3.1 and $4.8 billion in revenue from Australia’s university sector in the remainder of 2020, with total losses of $16 billion predicted by 2023,” Professor Terry said.

“It’s critical we pivot to face this challenge by focusing on those revenue streams that already serve us well – such as our outstanding record in commercialisation through UniQuest and funding from business, industry and philanthropy. We also have to consider the areas where there’s potential to strengthen our offering, such as the demand for reskilling and short-term programs we see in times of economic hardship and technological disruption.

“The way people learn is changing. While undergraduate, graduate and research education remains fundamental, there are new opportunities opening up for adult learning outside of these traditional educational structures,” Professor Terry said.

“We may need to increase our offerings in micro-credentials, which are shorter and more specified than traditional degrees and can be used by members of the workforce to understand and adapt to rapid change in their jobs.

“UQ was an early pioneer in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Our MicroMasters programs – such as those in Sustainable Energy and Leadership in Global Development – continue to be really popular all around the world. So this is a strength that we will keep building on as the economy changes and technology keeps advancing,” she said.

In 2017, McKinsey Global Institute estimated that almost half the activities in the global economy (across 800 occupations and more than 2000 work activities) could potentially be automated with existing technology.

For Professor Terry, the role of universities in preparing graduates for this huge shift will still be to deliver deep, disciplinary knowledge and specialisation, but to deliver it in a digital environment that also embeds transferable workplace skills.

“Government data suggests that job growth is strongest in STEM disciplines, at 19.7 per cent between 2014 and 2019, which is 1.9 times higher than the growth rate of other occupations,” Professor Terry said.

“However, that doesn’t mean that the non-STEM fields have become obsolete. In fact, the opposite is true.

“Digital disruption is challenging ideas about what it means to belong and to be marginalised; changing how we govern our societies; presenting profound ethical challenges and shifting how we curate, create and ultimately understand our cultures. So, disciplinary expertise in the humanities and social sciences will also be essential.”

Rapid changes in technology have also been a catalyst for changing student expectations. Of the current students, most have never lived without Wi-Fi, social media or smart phones.  It’s therefore advantageous to combine this natural tech savvy with the entrepreneurial expertise that already exists in UQ’s commercialisation programs to produce graduates who can be nimble in the face of widespread change.

“Incoming cohorts of students are lifelong digital natives and will be fully prepared – and expect – heavy involvement with technology in their courses,” Professor Terry said.

“But beyond technology, these new industrial trends strongly favour entrepreneurship and hands-on problem solving. This is a strength that we have already demonstrated in the commercialisation programs, but it needs to become a central part of every student’s learning here at UQ.

“Programs like UQ Ventures and work-integrated-learning have proven to be highly successful already and we’ll continue to increase student participation in these activities as part of our Entrepreneurship Strategy.

“Many of our programs already have strong industry engagement, including the Masters of Business Administration with compulsory industry-based capstone courses, and this is a trend we will continue to build,” Professor Terry said.

Professor Terry believes this outwards-facing strategy will not only ensure graduates are ‘work ready’, but foster closer ties between the university and business.

“Like all sectors, universities have taken a significant financial hit with the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to be affected by technological change,” Professor Terry said.

“But Universities are some of the most adaptive, resilient, self-renewing institutions in human history. We’ve weathered many challenges over the past 110 years and we hope to emerge from this pandemic stronger than before – perhaps with a COVID-19 vaccine that we can share with the whole world.”

Image of students walking outside the Forgan Smith building at UQ St Lucia

Learn more about UQ ChangeMakers:

alumni.uq.edu.au/changemakers