Posted: 31 Aug. 2022

Will Symons's AFR Higher Education Panel Insights

Key insights from the AFR Higher Education Summit

Will Symons, Deloitte Asia Pacific Sustainability Lead, Deloitte, joined the 'Driving the ESG agenda' panel at the AFR Higher Education Summit on Tuesday, 30 August 2022 alongside Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor, Western Sydney University; Patricia Davidson, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Wollongong; Syed Islam, Advisory Director, Centre for New Energy Transition Research (CfNETR), Federation University; and Sally Patten, BOSS Editor, The Australian Financial Review.


Read on to discover Will’s key insights from the panel discussion.


De-carbonisation and the role of universities

The three primary roles that form the foundation for thinking about the roles in de-carbonisation of universities are: 

  1. Skills and capabilities of your graduates and university roles more broadly in skills in the economy. There’s rapidly emerging skills needs, that our economy is going to need, to decarbonize. If our corporates and governments don't have those skills, it will hold back decarbonisation, and I would contend it already has.
  2. Research and development. What really matters now is speed and scale. That is, speed to market, and scale of deployment. And that isn't something I would suggest Australia is great at. We tend to be very risk averse, and we're not great at commercializing.
  3. Leadership. With our cohorts of future leaders coming through your institutions every day, leadership is incredibly important. From signalling to graduates, through making sure that the built environment at campuses is sustainable, and the messages they're getting through their degree programs.

Funding models

We have to orchestrate between all the supply and demand sides of our economy, from a skills and resources perspective.

There’s a great desire from the private sector to engage with universities. The biggest barrier which exists between the public and private sectors is that we talk different languages and there's a discomfort and disconnect. We recently surveyed a large number of clients, and three quarters of the 150 business leaders we spoke to wanted to either extend or build new partnerships with universities but indicated that there's a language issue.   There’s also a speed issue. And finally, what we need is people with a convergence of skills.


The global context

There’s a lot of reporting in the media about Australia being a renewable energy superpower. Big industrials in Asia see prospectus to invest and they are moving forward. When I speak to them, the first or second or third thing they ask is about skills. Skills and more broadly, workforce, is a huge issue. And it’s about timing. It's about the right skills in the right place. 


If you would like to learn more, visit our AFR Higher Education Summit 2022 page. 

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Will Symons

Will Symons

Asia Pacific Climate & Sustainability Leader

Will is Deloitte’s Asia-Pacific Climate & Sustainability Leader and has over 20 years’ international experience supporting organisations to respond to climate change. He has worked extensively across all infrastructure classes, led national-level climate risk assessments, delivered innovative adaptation strategies, developed urban resilience strategies for cities across Asia and advised government agencies on how to align regulatory arrangements to drive more effective climate risk management. Will has also led sustainability and carbon management services for infrastructure projects with an aggregate capital value of over $15 billion, is an experienced facilitator and trainer and co-developed the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s ‘Resilience Reefs’ initiative. For Will, the need for organisations to rapidly accelerate action to decarbonise their business models and actively address climate risks is clear. The opportunities associated with this transformation agenda are enormous, but to capture value organisations need to move quickly, consider all aspects of their business, build new partnerships across their value chains and transparently engage with their stakeholders. Leading a group of climate and sustainability practitioners across the region, Will’s role is to bring the best of Deloitte to help our clients solve their complex problems, manage uncertainty and respond to rapid change.