Australia Future of Australian unis: bite-sized degrees, online-only students

03:30  13 july  2018
03:30  13 july  2018 Source:   theage.com.au

Future of Australian unis: bite-sized degrees, online-only students

  Future of Australian unis: bite-sized degrees, online-only students The future of Australian universities is likely to include bite-sized degrees and online-only programs for international students, the head of UNSW says.Students may also initially spend far less time at university than currently and keep coming back throughout their careers to update their skills, UNSW's president and vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs told the Herald.

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© Brendan Esposito "Universities need to evolve," UNSW's vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs says. The future of Australian universities is likely to include bite-sized degrees, on-demand courses and online-only programs for international students to meet the growing global demand for tertiary education, the head of the University of NSW says.

Students may also initially spend far less time at university than currently and keep coming back throughout their careers to update their skills, UNSW's president and vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs told the Herald.

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"Universities need to evolve and one of the challenges is the changing work environment and the need for people to have lifelong education... we're already thinking about short courses that fit with what industry want," Professor Jacobs said.

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The need for change comes amid warnings that about 40 per cent of existing university degrees will soon be obsolete as growing numbers of employers and students say many courses no longer align with industry requirements, according to recent research by Ernst and Young.

The University of NSW pro-vice-chancellor Geoffrey Crisp said the university has begun to introduce a small number of post-graduate courses that are the equivalent of about one-eighth of a semester's workload.

"We're talking three units of credit, which is the equivalent of 75 hours of effort, which includes all the learning, assessments and reading," Professor Crisp said.

"Participants can stack those to get a master's degree... and the things they do in [those courses] are designed around them immediately incorporating them into whatever their workplace activities are."

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While similar short courses may become available for undergraduate students beyond 2025, for now UNSW is reconfiguring bachelor's degrees by creating a "blended experience", with more content available online and a greater focus on student and teacher interaction on campus, Professor Jacobs said.

"We're changing the way we do face-to-face learning so we will, like many other universities, be having [fewer] big lecture rooms full of students, a lot of that will be delivered online," Professor Jacobs said.

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"We'll be adapting our campus to allow much more interaction."

Professor Jacobs said changes at the university were also aimed at improving student satisfaction, an area where UNSW is well behind the national average, according to the latest Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching data.

"We are not satisfied with being in the place we are in the league tables of QILT, we are not doing well enough and we are addressing every single aspect of that student experience," Professor Jacobs said.

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He said he expected far greater numbers of students from all over the world studying online-only courses in the future.

The University of NSW has already started to move in this direction with its PLuS Alliance partnership with Arizona State University and King's College London, which this year launched an online degree in international public health.

"I do see this as a really important direction of travel because the demand for higher education globally is growing exponentially ... [the estimates] are that by the end of this century, it will exceed 50 per cent of the world's population," Professor Jacobs said.

"The quality of our education by any international standards is very high and if we're going to build on Australia's wonderful track record for [providing] higher education, we're going to need to use technology to do it.

"And I'm convinced that it is possible to deliver high-quality online education in an interactive way with really clever assessment and feedback that keeps students engaged."

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