Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Changes to Australian Higher Education in the 2014/2015 Federal Budget

Just about every year since the Australian Federal Budget was first put on the web, I have done a quick search though the documents to find matters of interest in information technology. This year, here are some comments on the education aspects of the budget.

Last year the Government "recommitted" to "Remote Indigenous Internet Access", but but without an explicit amount of money committed to the program. This year, apart from the NBN I could not find any similar programs, for indigenous or other communities.

NICTA’s funding, of about $40 M per year for IT research, will end after 2015–16. NICTA has a significant number of PHD students jointly with universities, who presumably continue to be funded.

In addition changes to higher education will also require new IT systems. The deregulation of tuition fees from 2016 will require minimal direct changes. However, there is likely to be a reshuffling of campuses, with some major city universities closing regional campuses (as University of Queensland has already decided to close its Ipswich Campus).

The opening financial assistance to students studying diplomas may change the way higher education is delivered in Australia. Students who would have previously enrolled in a bachelors degree at a university, may opt for a shorter and cheaper diploma at a state government TAFE or private Registered Training Organisation (RTO), then top up their education with a part-time blended or fully on-line degree. These diplomas will mostly be delivered online. This will require an expansion of IT systems to support the new education options, but more significantly require a retraining of academics to design and deliver them. IT courses are likely to be one of those disciplines most changed.

For the last few years Australian universities have been struggling with how to think about new education options, as well as how to deliver them. The system to evolve will likely see the city research universities charge a premium to their on-campus students, while regional universities concentrate on low cost blended and fully online education.  Even the typical "on-campus" student will be 80% on-line: sitting in a classroom or lab one day a week. One term used to describe this was UWA Academic Staff Association's Humboldtian model of the university.

However, certificates are not included in the new higher education funding scheme. The shortest program the student can get funding assistance for is a diploma, which normally requires one year full time study. Certificates, which require six months full time study are very useful, as they allow students to quickly get a qualification for a job. Where institutions offer four terms a year, a part time student can do a certificate in one year. I did my Graduate Certificate in Higher Education this way, mostly on-line.

Cuts to federal school funding may also see an increase in demand for new IT systems by state governments to reduce costs and increase efficiency, with new ways to teach.

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