University leaders are facing ‘degrees of change’
The university sector is facing change: change in government funding, change in the way degrees and study are delivered, and change in the expectations of today’s millennial students. According to industry leaders at the Universities Australia 2019 Higher Education Conference, technology is underpinning that change.
“I can't think of one job that hasn't been affected by the rate of change of technology, making things either more efficient, or done differently. Artificial intelligence, the role that robots play in manufacturing, and so on,” said Professor Bernadine Van Gramberg, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Graduate Research and Research Training at Swinburne University of Technology.
“There’s a real call for universities to respond to the force of technology, and I think we'll see degrees changing, to meet those technology demands and help students be more adaptable about how they use their skills in the future.”
Teresa Tija, Vice-President Planning, Registrar and University Secretary at Victoria University agreed that technology was driving widespread change across the sector; something she saw as both an opportunity and a challenge.
“It's an opportunity because we need to essentially re-train and reskill people, as technology drives change in our workforce, and the way that we work. So where's the best place for communities and students who need to get re-educated and trained? It’s universities,” Tija said.
“But as to how universities adapt in order to teach those rapidly changing skill sets: that’s the challenge. I believe that universities are working really well to both innovate and transform themselves, to still be the leaders in that creation and dissemination of knowledge.”
What does this change mean for students?
Change to government funding has created a more competitive landscape for universities, so meeting the expectations of students is critical. And technological advances have meant that students are demanding a seamless digital experience.
“I've been in the university sector for about 30 years and seen a lot of change. We're thinking a lot more about the student experience and what the students' outcomes are than we ever have,” said Joanne Austin, Director, Planning and Resources at RMIT University.
“We're all rushing to do all these micro-credentials and online courses; but ultimately it's all about flexibility for the student, no matter where they are in the world.”
Dr Alison Barnes, President at National Tertiary Education Union added: “Technology has a big impact on changing universities; on the way teaching is performed and the different opportunities that technology provides for engaging with students.”
TechnologyOne Industry Director for Education and industry veteran Professor Peter Nikoletatos commented that the changes in technology and student expectations have made it more important than ever for universities to have sophisticated enterprise technology underpinning their operations.
“Universities’ operating systems need to be able to provide rich data to the universities' decision makers, to understand exactly where they need to invest their efforts and energy to attract the right students, the right researchers and the right programs, to ensure their sustainability and the key outcomes for those institutions,” Professor Nikoletatos said.