Thursday, April 23, 2015

Australian Strategy for International Education

The Australian Minister for Education and Training, Christopher Pyne, has released a "Draft National Strategy for International Education: For consultation" (PDF, 1.4 Mbytes, 84 pages, April, 2015). In my view the strategy does not place sufficient emphasis on the importance of on-line education, without which Australian education providers will not be viable.

 "International Education" for the purposes of this strategy is higher education, vocational education and training (VET), school education and English language tuition, with study in Australia, offshore university campuses, and online educaion (including massive Open Online Courses). The strategy does not define what an "international student" is, but presumably these are those who are not Australian citizens and not permanent residents.

The document points out on page 5 that international education is Australia's largest services export ($16.3B for 2013–14).

The report mentions "online" in several places, but only one strategic action is specific to it:

Strategic action 3.2 "Rejuvenating language study"

The Australian Government will:

introduce a comprehensive strategy to rejuvenate language study over the next five to 10 years, in all stages of the education cycle from early childhood through to higher education, including:

- a trial of online language learning for pre-school age children that will introduce children to the sounds and concepts of foreign language through interactive, games-based learning. Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese, Indonesian, French and Arabic will be the languages used in the trial. The results of the trial will inform the potential roll-out of new innovative mobile applications (apps) to more than 400,000 pre-school aged children over time" From page 37

Strategic action 4.3 "Building lasting connections with alumni"

 The Australian Government encourages Australian institutions and businesses to:
  • develop the Australian Global Alumni Network, an online social networking site, to promote ongoing connections between alumni, current scholarship holders and institutions
From page 36

Strategic action 6.1 "Leading good practice in new modes of delivery, including online"

New information and communication technologies are fundamentally changing the way people access information, knowledge and experts. These technologies can offer institutions, students and researchers flexible opportunities for teaching and collaboration irrespective of physical location. Online learning helps Australian institutions reach students overseas who may not be able to study in Australia. The Chaney report stated that new delivery models will likely include increased transnational delivery, online or distance delivery and tailored courses for professionals with discipline or organisation specific content. 
The Coalition’s Online Higher Education Working Group also examined the potential to grow online education in its report Higher Education in the Digital Age. The Government’s response to the report is at Appendix D.
Universities are also considering digital credentialing as a way of recognising skills and achievements that happen within and beyond formal contexts. For example, in 2014, Deakin University announced that it would use a fee-based process to audit an individual’s prior learning and award them badges on the basis of that assessment. The badges could be counted as credit towards Deakin University degrees. This is a potential avenue for the next generation of MOOCs.

While there are many opportunities to increase online teaching and learning to reach new and growing markets, there are also challenges. Presenting online courses requires significant resources, including capital investment, ongoing maintenance and equipment upgrades to remain relevant and competitive. Training academic staff to use new technologies is a further cost. Foreign governments and employers may have negative perceptions of graduates who have completed a course solely online. Employers also tend to value graduates with skills in team work, group problem solving and interpersonal communication gained through face-to-face modes of delivery. Developing a competitive advantage in this area will require careful consideration of all these issues.
Projects funded by the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) are encouraging the collaboration of partner universities to investigate innovative teaching and learning practices in technology enabled education. Sophisticated and innovative online resources have been created as a result of OLT funding and are publically accessible and can be embedded into the curricula of institutions. The Government is also providing funding of $24.6 million to 13 projects that are trialling the delivery of innovative education and training practices through the Broadband Enabled Education and Skills Services programme.
The dramatic rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has shown that the barriers to institutions sharing online content are breaking down. Universities are offering high-quality online content for free, attracting international interest. MOOCs are also a way for students who may not have previous tertiary education and may have confidence barriers to formal study to access learning opportunities. For example, the first iteration of the University of Tasmania’s “Understanding Dementia” MOOC attracted 9300 registrants from more than 60 countries worldwide. Unlike many MOOCs, it did not suffer from dramatic drop-out rates: more than 67 per cent of participants who started the course were still studying after four weeks. The course has also focused world attention on a strength of the University of Tasmania: research around social justice.
Goal 6: Embracing opportunities to grow international education The Australian Government encourages Australian institutions to:
  • continue to explore innovative approaches to online education that give students greater flexibility over timing, place, path and pace of learning
  • work with governments to undertake more analysis of the demand for online education, in relation to growing markets and preferred models of delivery 
  • supplement online education with experiential learning, such as videoconference discussions and webinars, as well as opportunities for residential programmes, internships or work experience.
The Australian Government will:
  • work with Australian institutions and other governments to undertake more analysis of the demand for online education, in relation to growing markets and preferred models 
  • support research and pilot activities relating to best practice technology enabled learning, including through the OLT and the Broadband Enabled Education and Skills Services programme 
  • work with foreign governments and employers to build confidence in Australian qualifications and ensure qualifications gained through online learning are understood, recognised and valued overseas
  • work with foreign governments to explore the strategies of leading countries in this area 
  • as part of the review of the ESOS framework, consider increasing the flexibility for some types of courses on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students as appropriate for distance and online learning.
The Australian Government will work with state and territory governments to:
  • undertake more analysis of the demand for online education.
From page 50

Measures of success

Improving the experience of students in Australia and expanding provision of Australian education and training overseas ...
  • Greater take-up of Australian qualifications provided through distance education and online.
From page 55
Appendix D of the report is a long awaited "Australian Government response to the Coalition’s Online Higher Education Working Group"(page 75). Unfortunately the response essentially just says that the government has removed regulatory burdens from universities so they have "the freedom to innovate: including for online education. There are no specific initiatives for online, or any other form of education, in the repose.

The government has a template for feedback, asking for :
  1. Organisation Name
  2. Please outline your (or your organisation’s) interest in Australian international education. Add any other relevant content. Response: Does the vision statement in the draft strategy represent Australia’s aspirations for international education?
  3. Are any significant goals for international education not adequately covered?
  4. Can you identify the strategic actions which best support your goals for international education?
  5. What are the best measures of success for international education?
  6. What are some case studies that best illustrate Australia’s success? Please provide examples. (Please include images where available):
  7. What would you like to see progressed as a priority for the strategy in the first year?
  8. Is there anything else you would like to raise that will help develop the final National Strategy for International Education?

Comment on the strategy document

Unfortunately the strategy does not show an understanding of the transition to online education now taking place. The report is based on the assumption that online education will be the last choice of students, who can't get education any other way, when it is becoming the first choice. This is compounded by a lack of understanding of what online learning is. Page 50 says: "supplement online education with experiential learning, such as videoconference discussions and webinars", suggests the authors do not understand that webinars  are already a routine part of online learning.

Within the next five to ten years blended learning will be routine from primary school to university. Primary school students will need more time in a face-to-face classroom and attention from teacher, but older students will need less attention. Australia will still require school and university campuses, but less of the education will take place there. As a result the approach of the Australian strategy for international education needs to be "flipped" tread on-line education as the central issue, not a peripheral one.

As currently formulated, the strategy assumes that Australian institutions can keep delivering education much as they have and remain competitive. The education strategy makes the assumption that the domestic Australian education market is secure from international competition, having a local natural monopoly. However, even where students still attend a physical local campus, much of their instruction will be delivered on-line in the classroom and can be sourced from anywhere in the world. If Australia does not have a strategy for creating this content, then Australian schools and universities will be reduced to the role of places for delivery of overseas content and collection of fees to be sent overseas.

An example of this new world is Torrens University Australia. This registered in South Australia, so that Australian students can qualify for government subsided study loans. However, Torrens is able to source on-line course materials and tutors from its worldwide Laureate International Universities network and is under no obligation to employ staff in Australia to design or teach courses.

The draft Australian Strategy for International Education assumes Australians will keep buying classroom education and this can be the base for an export industry. This has similarities to past government car industry policy, which assumed Australians would keep buying large family cars and some could be exported. Australians stopped buying large family cars and Australian automotive manufacture is ending. Similarly, if Australians stop buying on-campus education there will be no basis for an education export industry. Australia will become a net importer of education, just as it has become an importer of cars.

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