Global Discussion Series: RMIT Europe – Reflections on the Current Environment
The following summarises the key messages that emerged during the one hour discussion, providing an overview of the current situation and exploring potential arising opportunities for RMIT Europe.
COVID-19 is accelerating the drivers of change and deepening fault lines
While the pandemic has, in many ways, felt like being in a state of suspension, the drivers of change have been moving around in unpredictable and unprecedented ways. Social distancing has altered our relationship with place, technology, community and governments, intensifying shifts, exacerbating inequalities and accelerating the trajectory of change.
The pandemic has prompted a digital leap, causing us to interact with, and reply upon, technology in new ways. This has created new opportunities for digital business, transforming sectors that have traditionally relied on interpersonal interaction, such as education and healthcare. It has also raised questions not only about how to work with verification and trust building technologies like blockchain, but also about how to construct and understand a wider set of social and institutional norms that should govern data security.
At the same time, the COVID-19 situation has exposed a new set of fault lines, which are now leading to new inequalities, new lines of conflict and a new set of trade-offs. The unparalleled circumstances have intensified regional tensions and brought economic inequalities to the forefront, fuelling existing debates about macro and micro economic frameworks that have helped keep asset values up and push more and more people towards the edges of the labour market.
In the current crisis, uncertainty is the only certainty
The evolving nature of the current situation has rendered predictions and modelling difficult, creating uncertainty surrounding the future state of global, regional and national landscapes. The potential threat of a second wave of COVID-19 cases could render current forecasts ineffective, limiting our ability to look beyond the current situation and anticipate recovery timelines.
In this climate of uncertainty, resilience and agile ways of working are emerging as key. Industries are embracing innovation in new ways, with the potential of digital modes of delivery, such as telehealth, finally being realised. This is changing the nature of access and creating new opportunities for research, innovation, scientific cooperation and the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The impact of COVID-19 is not evenly shared
For a virus that is non-discriminatory – attacking both rich and poor, and now also young and old – the impacts are not evenly spread. Economies that rely heavily on hard-hit industries, such as tourism, are experiencing greater repercussions from social distancing and mobility restrictions than those with a strong focus on growth industries such as technology, healthcare and digital trade. This is shifting regional dynamics and creating opportunities for industry ‘winners’ to drive change and co-create the future economic landscape.
In a European context, this disparity of impact is creating unique tensions. The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis and an economic crisis which, in the European Union, is quickly also becoming a political and constitutional crisis. As countries start to emerge from different levels of impact, there are differing views on the best ways to achieve resilience in Europe. The allocation of subsidies during the crisis have broken single market rules, creating uncertainty about the collective path forward. Further, the impact of unemployment disparities between the north and south is creating a protectionist attitude toward the Euro and raising concerns about deficit spending. This is building on existing questions about the clarity of the tax system and the flexibility of a single currency market.
The road to recovery offers unique opportunities
The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified issues that were not previously at the forefront of discussion. Never before have we so frequently discussed how people are feeling, in terms of both their mental health and wellness. Similarly, never have we seen such a dramatic drop in our environmentsl footprint as has been evidenced during the wide-spread social distancing practices. By giving a new platform to these existing issues, the crisis has created opportunities to carry new priorities into a post-COVID world. In terms of research and innovation, this creates opportunities to access new funding and forge new partnerships with industry and government. From the European Investment Bank’s recently announced €3.4billion investment to expand research and innovation in business, agriculture and tourism, to new direct pathways for research funding and development in healthcare, the shifting global priorities and changing the nature of funding are placing a new emphasis on innovation. This could create opportunities for RMIT Europe to secure its position as an industry-connected research and innovation hub, providing access to European expertise, as well as a gateway to Australian and Vietnamese resources.
RMIT Europe needs to position itself to align with emerging priorities
The reliance on, and prioritisation of, technology prompted by the COVID-19 situation is creating a new emphasis on digital expertise and applied innovation. RMIT Europe’s Horizon 2020 grant applications demonstrate our strength in this area, with five out of the six anchored around data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Further, RMIT Europe’s existing work on respiratory diagnostics is well positioned to contribute to the growing field of medical research, which is expanding exponentially under social distancing circumstances.
Finally, Europe has a complex and multi-layered digital strategy that will drive the economy forward. One central component is innovation hubs, which support networking and sharing of information and capability. This model presents opportunities for RMIT Europe to not only contribute in Barcelona, but also connect in Australia, Vietnam and RMIT’s global partners. By leveraging our institutional strength in digital innovation, RMIT will have opportunities to work with industry and community in new ways.