Richard Hill and Kristen Lyons wrote, "Academics are unhappy – it’s time to transform our troubled university system" (The Conversation, ). However, I suggest instead, it is time to transform our academics into independent, professional educators and impresarios.
Australian academics will be happy, when they skill-up to face the challenges of 21st century education. Universities need a mix of full-time academics, plus part-time professionals with current real-world experience. Casual teaching is set to continue and academics need to learn how to work in this global on-line education environment.
School and VET teachers are required to have formal education to help them cope with student demands, teaching and administrative workloads. In contrast, university academics suffer frustration in the workplace, because they are not trained teachers.
Higher-degree graduates are disappointed when they find that there are few long term and permanent positions for them. The solution to this is to change the selection, training and therefore the expectations of HD students. It should be made clear to those applying to undertake post-graduate studies that this is not a ticket to a university appointment, more like a lottery.
The training for graduates needs to emphasize coursework and vocational training for jobs in industry. Those aiming for the small number of jobs in academia will require formal training in how to teach and administer, as that is what they will be spending more than half their time doing.
Researchers spend much of their time applying for grants to obtain funding, so training in business skills will also be required. This training is much the same as that provided for budding entrepreneurs.
Australian universities are currently experience a boom, with international students providing funds to subsidize research. Just as the mining boom ended with a sudden crash, it is likely that this education boom will end suddenly, in the next five to ten years.
The nations which Australia provides education services for are building their own higher education industries. Not only will these countries have less need to send students to Australia, they will be able to offer low cost education to Australian students.
Australia domestic car industry was protected for decades behind a tariff barrier, but collapsed when that barrier was removed. In a similar way Australia's education industry is protected behind a barrier which will disappear in the next five to ten years. The Australian eduction industry will collapse, if it does not prepare now for increased global competition.
Australian governments will find it increasingly difficult to provide subsidies to the local education industry. International trade agreements have exemptions from free trade for education. However, as countries see they can compete in this industry, there will be pressure to remove these barriers.
Even now, an international for-profit university can set up a campus in Australia and receive Australian government education funding. Multi-national universities do not need to employ more than a handful of staff in Australia to qualify as an "Australian" university, with the bulk of the teaching and administration done on-line, offshore. Australian students will find the option of studying on-line with an overseas university increasingly attractive.
Australian academics need to gain the skills necessary to compete in this international environment, providing reasonably priced education, which is both academically sound and vocationally relevant.