“The programmes I’ve designed are experiential – they’re about learning by doing. My focus is on equipping students with the skills they will be able to use immediately after graduation.”
Professor Collins is Chair of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.
He moved to New Zealand from the United States in January 2018, after distinguished careers in both academia and business.
“I had options around the world when I decided to leave the US, but one of the reasons I chose New Zealand was because of its focus on problem-solving, critical thinking and the practical application of insights,” he says.
“Students here have the opportunity to analyse problems and figure out how to solve them, which is what they will be doing for the rest of their working lives.
“It’s a style of learning that is different to, say, traditional Chinese education, but it would equip Chinese students with the skills and confidence to go anywhere and do anything.”
Innovation is closely related to entrepreneurship, and Professor Collins is currently developing a complementary set of innovation qualifications to be rolled out in 2019.
Professor Collins previously worked in the aerospace/defence, energy and software industries, as well as serving on the management team of a private equity group.
He kept up his significant business interests when he moved into academia, teaching at prestigious US universities such as Texas A&M University, Baylor University and Southwestern University.
Professor Collins says New Zealand’s distinctive style of education and relatively small population have major benefits for students.
“Students in New Zealand have a level of access to business that simply wouldn’t be possible in other parts of the world,” he says.
“They’re able to get involved in for-profit businesses, non-profit businesses, government agencies and student organisations.
“I think that’s partly because of New Zealanders’ can-do attitude and co-operative spirit, and partly because there are fewer barriers to access here.
“Students also get more personal attention in New Zealand than they would elsewhere.”
Professor Collins’s students work individually and in teams on real-world projects in organisations ranging from small, family-owned businesses to multinational corporations.
They can start honing their entrepreneurial skills in entré, a student-run company that gives students the chance to test their business ideas with the help of mentors and business connections.
Students can also take part in challenges and competitions. One popular event is the SDS Competition, an international business case competition.
“Students who take part in the competition can jump-start their professional networks and develop strong international connections,” says Professor Collins.
While some students launch their own start-ups after graduating, Professor Collins says others go on to become effective problem-solvers in large existing businesses.
“Whatever path they choose, we give them the practical experience, problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills and confidence they need to make an impact.”