Thursday, May 5, 2016

Australian Government Considers Funding Sub-bachelor Programs

Worryingly for Australian universities, this week the Australian Government released a discussion paper questioning if so many students need a university degree to get a job. In "Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education", the government is considering if it should fund cheaper sub-bachelor programs:
"A sub-bachelor course leading to a diploma, advanced diploma or associate degree can also offer a recognised qualification that leads to rewarding jobs and careers, as well as providing a potential pathway to further study at bachelor level and beyond." from Australian Government, p. 11, 2016)
I suggest that this could be extended further to include certificates (about half a diploma, six months full time study). On its own a certificate is sufficient for some jobs and is also a useful complement to a qualification in another field.

A hot topic in Australia at present (and I assume elsewhere) is the employability of university graduates and if they have work ready skills. Ramadi, Ramadi and Nasr (2016) looked at the gap between what engineering graduates learn and what  industry expects of them. This looks very scientific with t-tests and graphs, but it is still a measurement of the opinion of industry as to what graduates should be able to do, not what they actually need to be able to do.

The Australian Taxation Office monitors the salaries of graduates as part of the student loans scheme and so has very detailed quantitative data as to what salaries graduates get. The universities have measures of course quality, including what employers say they want, but if the result is not a higher paying job (or any job), then this is unlikely to be convincing for government.

Paper Fails to Consider Online Learning

Like the Australian government's recent "National Strategy for International Education 2025", the discussion paper fails to sufficiently consider the effect online education will have on Australian universities in the next five to ten years. "Online" is mentioned in the discussion paper only once, with reference to learning:
"We need to do more to raise student aspiration and reduce the barriers that regional and remote students face to enter the higher education system– whether at an institution in their region, in their capital city, or online." (p. 13)
In contrast the discussion paper mentions "campuses" three times. This is out of proportion with how students study now and how they will study in the future. The typical student will need to be on campus for about 20% of their studies, or about one day a week.

Already most Australian university students have made the transition to on-line study, but this is being masked by the label "blended learning". What has happened is that more than half of students are no longer attending lectures. Universities are catering for this with a primitive form of e-leaning using recordings of live lectures. However, most courses are not specifically designed for on-line delivery and most university staff are not qualified to design or deliver such courses. By the time the Australian Government discovers that on-line delivery is a cost effective option, it may be too late for Australian Universalities to reequip and re-skill to provide this and the government will have to fund imported on-line programs, turning the current  education export industry into a multi-billion dollar purchase of overseas education service and products.


Australian Government. (May, 2016). Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education. Retrieved from
"evaluation, n.". OED Online. March 2016. Oxford University Press. (accessed May 05, 2016).

Ramadi, E., Ramadi, S., & Nasr, K. (2016). Engineering graduates’ skill sets in the MENA region: a gap analysis of industry expectations and satisfaction. European Journal of Engineering Education, 41(1), 34-52.

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