Wednesday, March 8, 2017

University for the Future

Consulting company Lee Hecht Harrison have released "University for the Future: Evolutions, Revolutions and Transformations" (March 2017). This does not say anything new, but provides a well researched and readable summary of issues facing Australian universities. With higher education being a global industry, and Australia taking a significant share of the international student market, the report is also of relevance to those outside Australia.

The report is really six papers by different consultants:
  1. The Higher Education Sector: Where Have We Been and Where are We Now?, Yana Halets 
  2. The View From the Top: Findings From Interviews Conducted with Australian University Vice-Chancellors and Human Resources Directors, Dr Rod Gutierrez
  3. Community Impact and External Partnerships: From Transactions to Partnerships in Innovation Systems, Dr John Howard.
  4. The Student of the Future, Dr Onnida Thongpravati
  5. An Opinion on Leadership in the New World, Brad Griffiths
  6. Human Resources Transformation: People, Process, Structure and Systems, Peter Watson
One problem with the report is that it discusses on-line learning from the point of view of Massive
Open Online Courses (MOOCs). However, MOOCs are just an adaption of long developed on-line learning techniques for university extension programs and marketing of for-fee courses. MOOCs are a distraction from the real significance of e-learning.

The report does go on to make the case for blended or flipped learning. However, the report does not go into detail on the implications of this for universities, in terms of the new skills teaching academics require or the effect on physical infrastructure.

By the end of the decade I expect the average full time university student will need to be in a classroom for one day a week and a part time student one day a month. The distinction between campus based and on-line students will disappear as almost all students will do most of their study on-line.

Courses need to be designed to language students who are not in a physical classroom for most of their study. Academics need to learn how to teach and assess these students on-line.

Universities are already reconfiguring campuses to have more flexible learning spaces. A good example of this is the ANU Union Court Redevelopment currently underway:
"Existing teaching facilities in University Avenue and Union Court, including the Manning Clark Centre, will be replaced by a number of multi-purpose, multimodal, flexible learning spaces which will be embedded with new digital infrastructure." From "Teaching and learning", ANU, 2017
Even allowing for the incorporation of leisure facilities and accommodation for international students, an 80% drop in students on campus, due to e-learning will require Australian universities to reconfigure the size and number of campuses. With students studying primarily on-line at home or work, there will be a demand for more distributed group study facilities, particularity in city and suburban centers, close to the student (this effect was noted fifty years ago with the establishment of the UK Open University).

It would not be practical for individual universities to each have their own distributed  campuses and these will be, of necessity shared. An example of this approach is 220 Victoria Square, Adelaide. The building has been shared by three universities.

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