Auckland ‘start-up’ space a blueprint for the future

Universities will have to provide a different kind of learning environment to get graduates ready for rapidly changing work environments. The University of Auckland's new Unleash Space is designed to help with exactly that, Rod McNaughton writes. 

While universities have traditionally provided students with a discipline-specific education and practice in navigating large bureaucracies, today’s employers are looking for graduates who have had a different set of experiences.

To be work-ready, a graduate needs to be able to navigate within nimble organisations, to think and act entrepreneurially, and to work effectively in teams across areas of expertise. Thus, universities will have to provide a different kind of organisational and learning environment and change their approaches to teaching and learning.

The University of Auckland made a big step towards meeting these needs this week with the opening of the Unleash Space by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday. This new space looks more like a Silicon-Valley start-up than a university lecture hall. It is noisy and chaotic with a state-of-the-art maker-space in which students can design and build prototypes, and areas for workshops, collaboration and events.

A joint project between the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Faculty of Engineering, the space caters to students from all Faculties, whether they use the equipment to build something, or want support in moving an idea from inception to commercialisation. Most of the programmes run in the space will be student led, providing opportunities for leadership development.

The Unleash Space is a natural extension of the rich history of successful entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Auckland, and the growing international reputation of Auckland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. However, the thinking behind this facility goes far beyond encouraging and supporting new ventures: the Unleash Space offers a vision for the future of university education.

Future classrooms may look much like today’s incubators and co-working spaces, where teams driven by their passionate to move an idea toward reality, collaborate intensely and learn by sharing their knowledge as they solve problems.

Such flexible spaces can be quickly modified for different purposes, and will foster learning through collaboration on real projects. For example, students might work with a company to solve a problem, simultaneously providing opportunities to learn about technology and business, while also developing the mindset and personal skills to be effective, no matter their choice of career.

Ahead of the official launch, nearly 600 students signed up as members and were trained on the maker-space equipment, and in the coming year, it is expected that more than 150 workshops, seminars and events will be delivered to more than 2000 students in the Unleash Space. Local businesses will be involved in these programmes and events to ensure they are pragmatic and impactful.

New Zealand universities need to reinvent themselves to meet the changing needs of graduates in our fast-paced economy, and with the launch of the Unleash Space, the University of Auckland has made a big step toward the future.

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