Monday, January 4, 2021

New Australian Education Minister Needs to Put Online at Core of Strategy

Recently I was asked for comment by John Ross at Times Higher Education for an article on what might be Alan Tudge, the new Australian education minister's approach. In 2013 he chaired a committee investigating online learning particularly for International students. This did not appear to receive support from his colleagues, or the Australian higher education sector at the time. However, as I commented in THE article, the need to teach students during COVID-19 has shown the value of on-line learning. The problem for the new Minister  is now to recast the national strategy for higher education,  with online learning at its core. 

Even when COVID-19 is hopefully overcome, in a few years time, students will not necessarily flock back to campuses. In 2016 I suggested Australian providers should be ready with an online option if an international crisis kept students from campus. The crisis I had in mind was not a pandemic, but a military confrontation. That could still occur, again depleting our campuses of international students. Also we need a strategy to address increasing competition for students from campuses in their own country, as well as offshore and online. In particular China's Education Action Plan for the Belt and Road Program presents a challenge.  The Australian government should see value in helping with education in our region of the world, for strategic, humanitarian and economic reasons.

Australian educators have demonstrated that they could rapidly pivot from classroom to online teaching in an emergency. University and government leaders now have the difficult but important task of turning this from a short term unplanned expedient to the core of the new national strategy.

On 5 December 2019, Dan Tehan, the then Australian Minister for Education, announced a refresh of the National Strategy for International Education 2025 to be conducted in 2020. As I suggested in 2015, the strategy should have online learning at its core, to allow for short term crises which may keep students from campus (as later happened with COVID-19 ), and address the long term challenge of China's Education Action Plan for the Belt and Road Program.

I wrote of the strategy in 2015

'In my view the strategy does not place sufficient emphasis on the importance of on-line education, without which Australian education providers will not be viable ... international education needs to be "flipped" [with] on-line education as the central issue, not a peripheral one'. 

 I predicted most teaching would be online by 2020, but regrettably most institutions did not plan for this and had to implement crash programs due to COVID-19. However, even when COVID-19 has been overcome there may be regional geopolitical tensions which again keep students from Australian campuses without warning. Also there will be increasing competition for students from campuses in their own country, offshore and online, particularly from China's Education Action Plan for the Belt and Road Program.


Australian minister tipped to rethink building blocks of degrees by John Ross, Times Higher Education, January 3, 2021

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