Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What Makes A University Different?

Greetings from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where Professor Brian P. Schmidt AC FAA FRS, ANU Vice Chancellor is consulting staff, students and the community on the future of the university.
The ANU released a draft document "Australian National University: Our Vision" and is conducting a series of consultation sessions.

My suggestion is to "flip" the university to make "ANU 2.0", putting the emphasis on on-line teaching and research, turning it into a truly  global institution.

The VC started by commenting that the legislation governing the university was decades old. The Functions of the University, as set out in the Australian National University ACT (1991), Section 5, are:
(1)  The functions of the University include the following:
(a)  advancing and transmitting knowledge, by undertaking research and teaching of the highest quality;
(b)  encouraging, and providing facilities for, research and postgraduate study, both generally and in relation to subjects of national importance to Australia;
(c)  providing facilities and courses for higher education generally, including education appropriate to professional and other occupations, for students from within Australia and overseas;
(d)  providing facilities and courses at higher education level and other levels in the visual and performing arts, and, in so doing, promoting the highest standards of practice in those fields;
(e)  awarding and conferring degrees, diplomas and certificates in its own right or jointly with other institutions, as determined by the Council;
(f)  providing opportunities for persons, including those who already have post-secondary qualifications, to obtain higher education qualifications;
(g)  engaging in extension activities.
(2)  In the performance of its functions, the University must pay attention to its national and international roles and to the needs of the Australian Capital Territory and the surrounding regions.

From "Functions of the University", Section 5, Australian National University ACT (1991).
The Australian Parliament has given the ANU a broad mission for national and regional development in a world context. But this may need some minor refinement.

The VC made use of an on-poll tool during his presentation, with the audience able to vote on aspects of research and education and the results displayed in real time. As he commented, this is a good technique to use during a lecture to keep students engaged. Such a "Lecture 2.0" technology is an improvement on dull old non-interactive presentations. The VC has previously produced a groundbreaking fully on-line Astrophysics Course, showing the future of university education.

The "Australian National University: Our Vision" at four pages is longer and more detailed document than it needs to be. I suggest it could be trimmed to less than a page. Alsoit needs to be more specific on "research-led" education. Research into how people learn is useful, as is teaching new discoveries from research. However researchers require additional training in how to teach to make them effective educators (Bryant & Richardson, 2015).

The ANU's efforts to consult the staff, students and community in a "blended" way, with face to face forums, computer support in the live events and on-line forums points to the future of the ANU as an online institution. Australian needs such an "ANU 2.0", which has a campus to support its research and education activities which will be primarily on-line. A reasonable goal would be within ten years to have five times as many on-line off-campus students and researchers, as  on campus ones, or about 30,000 on-campus and 150,000 on-line students).


Bryant, D., & Richardson, A. (2015). To be, or not to be, trained. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 37(6), 682-688. DOI: 10.1080/1360080X.2015.1102818

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