STEM, STEAM and Impact

The two areas of great recent debate have been around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and impact. These are both significant debates, the one is seeking to understand what skills will be needed in the future and how school educated students can be best prepared for university and the workforce, particularly in terms of 21st century skills. There is a great need to prepare the workforce with the skills they need, and this has fostered the debates around STEM, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) and 21st century education skills. However, it is unclear currently exactly what the new jobs will be and therefore plans to prepare students for the information economies of the future have not always been grounded in the evidence base. Although for example the Australian Computer Society report on ICT skills shortages (https://www.acs.org.au/news-and-media/news/2015/ict-skills-shortage-points-to-enormous-career-opportunities-finds-acs-and-deloitte) may begin to point to where the skills gaps are to ensure that university programmes are designed to address any educational skills needs.

Impact has been a great debate in the United Kingdom as a result of changes from the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) to the Research Exercise Framework (REF) and is starting to be considered in Australia with proposed impact measures in addition to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). The main touchpoint of the debate has been not so much around what impact is or how it might be facilitated but rather around how impact can be measured. There is an assumption here that impact can be measured and that measurement and certainty can guide sectoral transformation. While this is arguable, it is certain that innovation will drive impact, so some focus is needed upon how we can better connect innovation with investment to maximise profitability and accelerate growth.

Necessarily we will want impact of research beyond citations and funded projects into start-ups and IP generation, but this will require scientifically trained students to enter our workforce, with soft skills to problem solve and overcome challenges and knowledge of how evidence-based approaches and analytical skills can be applied in given areas of study and practice.

What is certain is that the next generation of graduates will need a range of skills including resilience and adaptability to prepare them for the greater number of career changes they will experience over their working lives.

To fuel wider social and economic development and growth over the next five years in Australia, a programme of innovation, entrepreneurialism and academic-industrial collaboration is needed.

The next blog post will consider promoting innovation in our universities.

New generation of students for new learning

Universities are clearly at a fork in the road, however, with the right vision that blends new more real world and exploratory pedagogy with a greater flexibility – a more personalised experience for learners will result.

We will need to renew our learning spaces, trial and blend our learning and teaching practices to match the new generations and create greater flexibility for supporting these more personalised learning experiences. But the advantages will be beneficial in numerous ways: better alignment with the workplace, proactive dialogue with our communities and social support for real world problems through translational research and work and community integrated learning outcomes. 

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To achieve this, we will also have to find new ways to collaborate more closely as a sector and work more closely with industry.

With rising numbers of global and lifelong students, open access to universities within and beyond the undergraduate curriculum, ease of access to high quality learning materials and lifelong learning for all, the future is not as uncertain as many commentators would like to think… In fact the need for learning is growing significantly and the requirements of re-education are gaining with every career change we take. Clearly the need for high quality education is not decreasing and is set to continue to grow with new markets of on shore and off shore learners.

The Generation Zers coming into our universities will present us with challenges for sure, but in the end they are just a new generation of learners who need to be scaffolded through the learning process like any other generation. They want to be inspired to learn more from subject specialists and want to emerge from the hallowed halls of universities globally competitive and ready to make their unique contribution to the workplace. They may face greater chances of unemployment and need a wider range of soft skills, but most universities are well prepared and resourced to provide an excellent education using methods that are financially sustainable and quality that can be assessed to a high standard.