I recently returned from a study tour to Sweden and Israel with executives from one third of Australia’s universities. The purpose of the tour was simple: to understand two of the world’s most innovative economies and to identify what could be learned and applied in Australia (read the full study tour report here).

In Israel, the focus was on the start-up nation, driven substantially by the country’s global leadership in technology, cybersecurity and the mindset to think global first. In Sweden, the focus was innovation and digitization of its economy and entrepreneurship. This included the the incredible transformation of Stockholm, which has become one of the world’s most vibrant start-up scenes.

Israel and Sweden are two countries that realize that an entrepreneurial culture is only possible by embracing the opportunities of digitization. This was apparent through four main themes that arose during the tour.

People expect to create their own jobs

In both Israel and Sweden people spoke of the importance of a start-up mindset. Young people in both countries are increasingly expected to take control of their own economic future to a greater extent than generations before them. This was particularly true in Israel, where people spoke proudly of the importance of being fearless in developing and commercializing products and businesses.

Economic success is increasingly linked with emerging platform technologies and advanced cybersecurity capabilities

Sweden and Israel have identified specific platform technologies to anchor their innovation and entrepreneurship efforts. The focus on smart cities is an example of how nations, cities and campuses are using new technology to extract more value from existing infrastructure. This includes use of the Internet of Things, analytics, automation and blockchain technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of transport, lighting, energy and citizen-facing services.

The developments in 5G technology showcased by Ericsson on the tour provided a glimpse into the range of future ‘smart’ applications – many of them with the potential to transform the cost base and business models for universities and their campuses. Israel’s economic success is increasingly tied to its leadership in cybersecurity, which acts as a magnet for foreign investment, creates global opportunities for Israel’s top talent and drives commercialization of its IP.

Universities treating industry as investors, not donors

The relationship between multinationals and universities is changing. Cisco and Ericsson spoke of the shift towards fewer, yet deeper partnerships with universities. Trust, transparency and the capacity to be involved in a continuous conversation were critical with the acceleration in change.

Scale from the start

Israel and Sweden spoke of the imperative to think global from the start and configure business and operating models for scale and agility.

Australia’s challenge is to take the best elements of Israel and Sweden’s approaches and create our own scale-up nation. The National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) provides a framework for what is required to build Australia’s innovation capacity and output, including the role of universities. However, the study tour shed light on some of the ways in which universities will need to change beyond the NISA framework. This includes the role of universities in helping Australia create a truly innovative and entrepreneurial mindset so that we can capitalize on opportunities.

The benefits from digitization are immense but not evenly distributed. Israel and Sweden are examples of countries that have embraced digital and the need to constantly change.

Universities anchor the Israel and Sweden innovation systems but they, too, have been forced to change. Australian universities acknowledge they will have to do the same, and accelerate their efforts in equipping their students, researchers and own organizations for a digital world.


Reg Johnson

General Manager, Education

Cisco Australia and New Zealand