From primary school to higher education, a KTH pilot study on systemically connecting education to industry

How to systemically connect industry’s recruitment needs to the educational system on all levels? Presenting a KTH pilot study that focuses on shared resources, inspiring teachers and raising the bar on early talent nurturing from primary school to university.

Johan Blaus
KTH (Royal Institute of Technology)

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Niki Kringos
KTH (Royal Institute of Technology)

Background and Objectives
The number of young students that are interested in technical subjects has decreased significantly the last years (REF). At the same time, the industry innovation requirements that are urgently needed to meet the sustainability goals have significantly increased. Through technical universities, the education and research programs are becoming more focused on innovation and societal impact. However, not all sectors solely rely on university educated staff and their innovation capacity is not necessarily subject to market dynamics. Systemic changes are therefore needed to enable the nurturing of a new generation that is (i) able to handle cross-disciplinary solutions, (ii) is comfortable with a life-long learning support system and that (iii) can raise the bar of innovation, away from risk averseness and frozen market dynamics. Given the ability of universities to both think long term and take a systemic perspective, it should be part of their assignment to lead the change processes that are needed to establish a systemic integration of facilities, needs and possibilities. The knowledge triangle model should thereby be extended beyond academic education and should already start from primary and secondary schools. Connecting the programs of the various levels of education to each other as well as to industry and strategic partnerships, could keep a wider range of students engaged to technical subjects as ‘role-models’, ‘networks’, ‘peer-mentoring’ and ‘industry case-studies’ can be more easily integrated in the curriculum.

To begin to investigate how to do this, KTH started in 2019 a pilot project with one of its Competence Centers, named Road2Science, that focuses on the transportation infrastructure sector. This is a typical sector that does not have a natural innovation market mechanism, suffers from a recruitment problem and has high demands on their cross-disciplinary innovation developments to meet sustainability goals. The pilot focuses on the Nynäshamn municipality, which is home to the Nynas AB refinery (producer of asphalt for road in the Nordic countries) and the Norvik port (the new Stockholm cargo port) being built by Stockholmshamnar AB. Together with the municipality, a local secondary school and two primary schools were selected. For the pilot, a working group with representatives of all partners was formed and a common roadmap was defined at the start of the pilot.

The long term aims of the project were commonly defined as follows:

• Increase the number of students who (i) have an interest in our future transport infrastructure system; (ii) understands and can discuss the challenges of the system's sustainable development and (iii) selects related (technical) topics in its curriculum
• Provide teachers with the conditions to (i) lift the challenges of transport infrastructure in their courses and activities, (ii) increase students' interest in the subject and technical subjects, and (iii) aim for sustainable collaboration with actors
• Enable comprehensive conception of ideas, opportunities, needs and interests across schools, municipalities, academia and industry boundaries to create the next generation of innovation leaders in the transport infrastructure sector.

It was defined that, in order to reach these goals, (i) students/teachers must be in contact with industry actors in order to build up their own knowledge of the subject; (ii) student should be able to try out their own possible career paths within the subject, (iii) teachers should have access to various tools and networks and be able to use the collaboration as a ball plank and (iv) the collaboration must create a sustainable environment where all actors can meet and understand each other's circumstances and contribute their own thoughts.