Sunday, March 15, 2015

Australian University Education in 2025

Recently I was asked what university education would look like in 2025. I don't think it will look much different to some of the courses I teach (and am a student of) now: on-line with no attendance required and no end-of-semester examinations.

Since 2009, I have been primarily teaching on-line, with individual support to the students, supplemented by face to face activities as needed. Assessment is partly progressive, to provide an incentive for the student to do the basic learning needed and to provide them with feedback, but the majority of assessment is by projects based on real world problems (Worthington, 2012).

By 2025 this blended approach will be applied to all students, with the distinction between "coursework" and "research" students all but eliminated. Students will enroll in a general degree program, start with some coursework and end with research or project based work. Students will be able to choose the mix of coursework and research which suits their interested and abilities, as they progress. Undergraduate students will be required to do at least a one semester project and postgraduate students twice that.

All students will use an e-portfolio to document graduate skills not covered by coursework (a "Thesis" will be an especially large entry in an e-portfolio). Staff will be formally trained and tested to advise on, supervise and assess these e-portfolios. E-portfolios will also be used for professionally accredited qualifications (such as for the Australian Computer Society). This will allow accreditation requirements to be met while not confining students to a limited set of courses.

By 2025 Australia could have more universities in the top 50 world rankings (research and for education quality), with institutions having hundreds of thousands of degree students enrolled.

There will still be some free and low cost courses for the community (previously called "MOOCs") but these will not be seen as part of the core university teaching.

The typical university student will be part time, with a job and family commitments. The primary way the student will interact with the university, their teachers and fellow students, will be on-line. An important part of this will be students learning to work with those of other cultures (Worthington, 2014). The interface to the students will look like those of the better on-line universities of today, such as USQ and Athabasca University (Canada).

Universities will have four terms a year, allowing a part time student to do just one course at a time (the maximum workload feasible for someone with full time job and family commitments). All degree programs will have "checkpoints" where the student can obtain an intermediate qualification useful for their career and still continue on. Typically a student would be awarded a Certificate, Diploma, and then Degree (or graduate equivalents).

Most education programs, and research collaborations, will use an asynchronous on-line mode. This will allow study and research to fit between work and family commitments. It will also allow for time zone differences around the world, as only about 10% of students enrolled at Australian universities will be in Australia. Most importantly, asynchronous mode will give students time to contemplate important topics and not just dash off an instant answer (Worthington, 2013).

The emphasis on on-line part time distanced education is not to say that campus based courses for full time students will disappear. Most students will be doing on-line and on-campuses courses for part of their studies, depending on their needs. The constraints of on-line delivery make these courses much harder to design well. So universities will find the strategy of designing on-line cruses and training their staff for this mode, then adapting some courses for on campus use, as required. The opposite does not work so well: face-to-face courses cannot easily be adapted for on-line use and classroom teachers simply do not know what to do on-line.

By 2025 at least one of the teaching team of each university course will be required to have a formal Australian higher education teaching qualification. The minimum will be a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, usually obtained through a Registered Training Organization (RTO) associated with the university. Staff will also be encouraged to join Australian professional teaching societies, which have international affiliations.

By 2025, RTOs will have been expanded to become an important part of the university, with most degree students expected to undertake at least one vocational course, to complement their university studies. Graduates will have the option to obtain vocational qualifications required by industry alongside their degrees. This will replace the current practice where some graduates have to attend a vocational institution elsewhere, in order to be qualified to work.

By 2025 most post-graduate students will undertake teaching as part of their degree and be expected to tutor junior students (although it will be called "professional leadership skills" rather than teaching). Introductory teacher training will be by the university's RTO, with the option of obtaining a recognized vocational qualification. Students will also be able to obtain a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, or an education degree, from the university's Education Faculty.

Before embarking on a 2025 strategy, a university should first look at some of those already in preparation, or released, including those by the universities of Melbourne, UNSW, Newcastle, and Monash. Also last year I discussed UWA's strategy in Perth. But it is not just Australian universities considering strategies, I attended a Flexible Learning Strategy Workshop at University of British Colombia's Vancouver campus.


Worthington, T. (2012). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on (pp. 263-266). IEEE. URL:

Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing asynchronous learning - Combining synchronous and asynchronous techniques. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2013 8th International Conference on (pp. 618-621). IEEE. URL:

Worthington, T. (2014). Chinese and Australian students learning to work together online - proposal to expand the New Colombo Plan to the online environment. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2014 9th International Conference on (pp. 164-168). IEEE. URL:

No comments:

Post a Comment