Thursday, February 11, 2021

More to Education Than Just Lectures Says ANU VC

In his 2021 Sate of the University Address yesterday, the Australian National University Vice Chancellor, Brian Schmidt, commented he wasn't go to  "... make the university into an on-line supermarket of inexpensively delivered courses and divert the savings into research ...”. While backing continued face to face instruction on campus, the VC said lectures shouldn't be “a crutch for poor pedagogy.” Rather he proposed better lectures, along with other forms of student interaction.

While the VC referred to the COVID-19 pandemic keeping students from campus as an unexpected Black Swan event, actions taken under his leadership did allow for a quicker, more effective response. This included reconfigurable classrooms which could be easily be set up for lower seating density, plus new systems, support staff and training in online learning.

As I explained in the last of my six part series my webinar for North American educators last year on coping with COVID-19, it should be considered a White Swan event. Universities had been warned for years that international enrollments could cease suddenly and should not be relied on. Health and emergency management professionals had run regular drills and propopsed technology for a likely pandemic

In 2017 I suggested universities should be ready with an online learning option in case international students were unable to get to campus in a regional emergency. Fortunately, ANU invested in upgraded online systems and training for staff, which meant it was in a better situation than many institutions, when COVID-19 struck.

Guthrie et al. (2021) have warned that ten other Australian universities are at a "high risk of financial default" due to dependence on revenue from international students, who can't get to campus because of COVID-19 restrictions. Their "probable" scenario is for onshore international students dropping 33.3% in 2021 due to COVID-19. However, no university would be immune from the effects of their predicted drop in international enrollments of 60% by 2030, due to competition from China. As Professor Schmidt suggests, cheap online courses are not a viable response. Australian universities can instead provide a quality blend of online and campus experience, for a reasonable, but not low, fee.

There is much more work needed to provide quality engagement for students. For the last four weeks I have been providing weekly webinars for North American educators on how engagement could be improved. I have been asked to provide an additional webinar on how to be part of an online education team.


Gwilym Croucher, Kristine Elliott, William Locke and Edward Yencken (0 Mar 2020) Australia’s higher education delivery offshore and online – trends, barriers and opportunities, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. URL

James Guthrie, Martina K Linnenluecke, Ann Martin-Sardesai, Yun Shen, and Tom Smith (January 2021). On the resilience of Australian public universities: Why our institutions may fail unless Vice-Chancellors rethink broken business models, Macquarie University Business School working paper. Download link at:

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