Sunday, May 1, 2016

Australian Government Strategy for International Education to 2025

The Australian government has released a "National Strategy for International Education 2025". Also there is an "Australian International Education 2025 Roadmap" and "Australia Global Alumni Engagement Strategy 2016–2020". The aim is to increase Australia's share of international students above the current 6%. That may sound a modest goal, but with increasing on-line competition and new institutions in China and India, it will be difficult for Australia to maintain its market share, let alone increase it. If, as I expect, on-line becomes the primary teaching method for global higher education in the next five to ten years, Australia will no longer be competitive, in attracting international students, or in the education of domestic students. Australia's share of international students will then have dropped to less than 0.5% and the share of domestic students to less than 20%, with most Australian students enrolling in offshore programs.

The strategy and roadmap mention on-line learning several times (noted below), but this is not core to the approach and there are no specific measures proposed. This is not sufficient for Australia to remain competitive, either in attracting international students, or retaining domestic students.


The strategy has three "pillars", each with a number of goals:
The Minister's Forward to the strategy mentions blended delivery models and online professional development.   Action 1.1 of the Strategy (Developing Australia’s role as a global leader in education, training and research), states "Learning will increasingly occur in-market and online, as well as onshore.". Action 3.1 (Maintaining strong quality assurance systems) says "The system is underpinned by legislation and based on strong partnerships between regulators, governments, industry and providers. It covers all modes of delivery, including online, distance, onshore and offshore.". Action 9.1
(Building on innovative education and training services to meet student and employer needs), says "In particular, improved technologies enable us to be a borderless society, where learning can occur anywhere at any time. This is fuelling new ways of education delivery, including onshore, in-market and online.".

Also Moodle, the Australian developed Learning Management System, is mentioned in two paragraphs on page 32 of the Strategy: "... From its beginnings in Perth in 2001, Moodle has expanded to a global community of more than 70 partners, 200 active developers and 65 million users. ...".


The Roadmap mentions Massive Open Online Courses
(MOOCs) as "One of the most influential developments in education over recent years...". Unfortunately the roadmap is incorrect in stating "Learning management systems, adaptive learning technology, education applications, online continuous professional development are all examples that have followed..." All of these preceded MOOCs and have not followed them. The report urges consideration of  in-market,
online and onshore delivery as a "cohesive borderless offering" (p. 5) and "harnessing the data generated from online delivery" (p. 11). However, what appears absent from both the Strategy and Roadmap is the need to have teaching staff who are qualified in teaching and, more specifically, trained in how to design and deliver on-line courses. The assumption appears to be that if there are standards and technology in place, quality education will result. However, education, even with technology, still requires teachers. Currently Australian university teaching staff are not required to be formally qualified in course design, assessment or in teaching in the classroom, let alone in the more demanding on-line environment.

Australian Global Alumni Engagement Strategy

The Alumni strategy has a different focus, being from the Department of Foreign Affairs. This strategy is seen as part of strengthening Australian diplomatic influence, as well as improving business linkages, in the Indo-Pacific region. The Strategy mentions "This includes engagement through
online and social media channels ..." (p. 15), "Showcase through digital profiles" (p. 15), "Collect and curate a
library of digital profiles of Australia’s global alumni and of Australians who have studied in the Indo-Pacific region" (p. 18) and "Profile alumni business connections online ..." (p.18), however, those are the only mentions of on-line engagement. Given the rapid growth in the use of smart phones in the Indo-Pacific region, relegating on-line techniques to a minor mention will make this strategy all but irrelevant. The Department of Foreign Affairs needs to "flip" the strategy, to provide engagement on-line through smart phones, devoting most effort to that and then supplementing this with other techniques. Glossy brochures and cocktail parties may give the appearance of action, but count for very little and are at high cost, compared to effective social media.

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