Simon Bridges: Finding synergies between university and business

Working together will help create new opportunities.

Simon Bridges portrait
There are wider ways to conceptualise the University economically, as an enabler and growth engine, says Simon Bridges

What do you think of when you think of universities? I think of science and humanities, of deep study, learning and collaboration, and of broadening oneself through stress, perspiration and, every now and then, moments of joyful inspiration.

I also think of romance and a time of life that I suppose, subconsciously, I’d often like to get back to. Yes, I worked hard at my courses and my part-time jobs as a student. I also met my wife Natalie – we got married at the end of our postgrad years quite literally at university, in a college chapel followed by a common room party. No one thought it would last, but we showed them, three kids and nearly 20 years on.

Of course, there are other ways we can conceive of universities than those I’ve mentioned, including through an economic lens.

The University of Auckland is the country’s number one university and one of New Zealand’s biggest employers and economic units. Post-Covid, when thousands of employees and tens of thousands of students came back to the office and lecture theatres, I noticed from my workplace on Symonds Street what a difference this foot traffic made to improving the situation around crime and antisocial behaviour, as well as boosting economic vibrancy. Having more people out and about, working, purchasing and socialising, was a game changer. Our city needs its big university.

There are wider ways to conceptualise the University economically, as an enabler and growth engine. One example is the work Professor Jim Metson is doing with colleagues around the Newmarket Innovation Precinct, given the collaboration it entails and the future GDP effect it will surely have.

International evidence shows if you bring academia and industry together in one location in a city, economic and social magic will happen. Auckland needs this kind of alchemy if we’re to see the growth and productivity gains required to attract talent and meet our people’s aspirations for higher living standards.

If you bring academia and industry together in one location in a city, economic and social magic will happen.

Simon Bridges, CEO of the Auckland Business Chamber

I’m fascinated by the thought of a med-tech hub – think academia, public health professionals and businesspeople partnering on telemedicine, wearables, analytics and diagnostics to improve health outcomes. This is a sector worth a couple of billion dollars to New Zealand and it’s already headquartered around the Grafton/Newmarket area, where all the essential ingredients are present: a great hospital, a top university with a med school, the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, plenty of start-ups and even the odd mature business, such as Orion Health, to create a successful ecosystem.

I believe the University of Auckland can lead on this and take the health-tech sector to greater heights, even world renown, in niche areas of excellence.

Intellectually speaking, the University is also a place of exciting diversity. Its academics and students are considering everything from how we think about a particular fictional text or a statute, or a bridge or a stem cell. We should also look on it as a centre of economic dynamism. This is true for our city centre, for exciting growth opportunities such as health technology and also in terms of birthing our people into the kinds of careers that will lift economic growth, productivity and living standards.

Finally, when we think of the University of Auckland, we need to ensure that academia, students and business are better connected and understand the deep value each can bring to the other, in an integrated holistic sense.

This is why I have invested so much personal time into getting to know people in the Business School and other faculties. Academia can lift business’s sights above the day-to-day grind to what is truly possible. Business can ground academic work in a pragmatic reality that may allow it to fly faster and more effectively.

What would be great would be for many more students, and even staff, to intern or move into business roles for periods in their careers to put theory into practice. Or, how about successful businesspeople swapping their corporate lives for a time to learn, research and teach in university departments?

Let’s work together as a city – university and business – to fulfil some of these ideas.


The Honourable Simon Bridges has a BA/LLB (Hons) from the University of Auckland. The former MP for Tauranga and National Party Leader is now the CEO of the Auckland Business Chamber and Chair of NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and is not necessarily that of Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.


This article first appeared in the Autumn 2024 edition of Ingenio