Trends for Higher Education 2015-2020

Innovation, Entrepreneurialism & Academic-Industrial Collaboration

Higher education is the fifth largest export for Australia. It will continue to play a huge role in the cultural and social life as well as economic growth of the country. Over the next five years, with increasing investment, the higher education sector in Australia will be set to grow and there are a number of key trends that we are likely to see deepen over the period.

The main areas of growth over the next five years will be fuelled by the move towards more information-based economies. The emergence of information societies (see work of Manuel Castells) and the rapid growth of computer technologies, broadband and mobile technologies has fuelled a greater dependence upon data transfer and analysis in our globally connected societies.

Universities are in a particularly good position to capitalise on this move to information economies as they are already major metropolitan and regional generators of intellectual property (IP), are international research centres and provide tertiary education and training for 47-70% of our school leaving students aged 17+ as well as educating large numbers of mature age lifelong learners aged 24+.

However modern society is fast changing (see work of Paul Virilio) and today’s problems are very different from yesterdays. Students want to learn in different ways and can gain much of the traditionally taught information from the web. Universities need to adapt to this fast changing environment and better prepare students for the different challenges and opportunities they find themselves in.

This means that as societies grow and develop in ever faster paces the university sector has to be more proactive to changes and adapt to give students the best experience we can and invest in innovation and applied research to help fuel metropolitan and regional development and growth to ensure that students can walk into a range of employment opportunities in a vibrant local economy. In order for the university sector to be more proactive, a greater focus upon leading metropolitan and regional areas in innovation, entrepreneurialism and greater interconnection between public and private sectors of the economy, is required.

To achieve more of a leadership role in the city or region requires planning and foresight, areas of specialism need to be selected carefully and invested into over a number of years. Links between State-wide start-ups and incubators need to be fostered and aligned by State government priorities as well as through universities and industry initiatives. Above all a dialogue between academic-industrial and government partners needs to be nurtured and made to underpin all investment planning. Through this alignment of focus and investment, greater returns can be achieved for students, industry, the academy and government.

Our new societies are above all about collaboration not competition. It is critical that this is acknowledged as we build our 21st century communities.

The next blog post will consider ‘STEM, STEAM and impact’.

Link to book:

de Freitas, S. Education in Computer Generated Environments. London & New York: Routledge

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.