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PhD Students Accelerate R&D In The Education Sector

Navitas is a leading global education provider that has helped generations of learners transform their lives through education. From pre-university and pathway to university programs, to English language and vocational training, and to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, Navitas reaches more than 70,000 aspirational learners at more than 120 colleges and campuses across a global network each year.


When the Navitas team identified a need to strengthen strategic agility, improve performance measures and obtain a deeper understanding of factors that are currently influencing student recruitment, they leveraged the research expertise of three PhD students, Upeka Somaratne, from Murdoch University, Nicolas Van Der Nest, from Curtin University and Karl Svatos, from Murdoch University, facilitated through the iPREP Biodesign program.

Upeka shares her experience today of the industry placement, alongside her teammates, Karl and Nicolas.

What attracted you to the iPREP Biodesign program?

“Past iPREP participants' experiences. They mentioned the supportive environment to learn new skills and apply knowledge to a problem in industry.”

What have you learnt from the industry experience? 

“The ability to quickly adapt to new challenges, to use complementary skills of team members who are specialized in different areas to create the best outcomes and the importance of communication and networking skills”  

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The iPREP Biodesign team placed at Navitas (L-R): Nicolas Van Der Nest, Karl Svatos & Upeka Somaratne 

What has been your favourite thing about the experience? 

“The support provided by the iPREP Biodesign program and Navitas which supported us to create an excellent project outcome”   

What would be your advice to a PhD student considering the iPREP Biodesign program in 2022? 

“It’s a must have experience. Say YES.”

Guided by her industry mentor, Richard Eason, Head of Technology and Systems at Navitas, Upeka contributed to a team effort that involved an analysis of current forecasting practices, collation of factors indicative of future trends in student recruitment and building of statistical models. The seven-week project achieved a design for a decision support tool, improved forecasting capabilities and provided recommendations for process optimisation.


Following the industry placement, Upeka was offered employment at Navitas as a Data Scientist to further the organisation’s work in this space.

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Student applications are open for 2022 industry placements, which extend to both late-stage and early-stage PhD candidates. The iPREP Biodesign program now offers both seven week and three month paid industry placements, with flexible participation modes. Visit or contact the program manager for more details and to apply!

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