Taking Australian Education Global

Taking Australian Education Global

At the Melbourne EdTech Summit, education experts and leaders from across Australia gathered to discuss the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the education sector, the migration of learning into online spheres, and the changes that the field will see coming out of 2020 and 2021.

Thought leaders at this session of the Melbourne EdTech Summit include

  • Professor Beverley Oliver, higher education consultant and national teaching fellow
  • Professor Susan Elliott, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Education at Monash University

Bev Hudson, CEO of University Partnerships at Navitas, taps into the more than four decades of combined education experience from professors Beverley Oliver and Susan Elliott to explore the current state of education in Australia, its global footprint, and its future, particularly in light of the changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Highlights of the discussion are below, followed by the full transcript:

Lasting changes from Covid

Despite its negative effects, Covid has accelerated the pace by which schools and educators have moved into the digital environment. Professor Elliott describes a few of the surprising results from the past year that she has witnessed across the Australian education ecosystem:

  • Student satisfaction scores are at their highest point in a decade.
  • Lack of distractions has enabled many students to focus more deeply on their studies, raising performance scores across the board.
  • Exam proctoring efficiency has improved, moving from a 90% submission rate pre-pandemic to 97% in 2020.

In many cases the digital format implemented during this time has produced better results and higher satisfaction scores, and will likely continue to be used even after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed.

“Students just hate being sat in a room and writing for three hours. No one handwrites anymore. So the format has proved really successful for us.”
Susan Elliott, Monash University

Professor Oliver also acknowledges the pace at which education has accelerated into the digital medium over the past year, but gives two caveats:

  • Some disciplines cannot be taught completely online, and those are still suffering during this period.
  • The world of work has also changed, and education is obligated to follow it in order to prepare students for their careers post-graduation.

Distance learning and distance working

Attracting a global audience to higher education in Australia requires a different approach to attracting those already present in the country. Professor Elliott discusses a major pro and a major con:

  • Pro: Australian universities already have the linguistic, technological, and educational capabilities to educate a global audience.
  • Con: Australian degrees are expensive. Attracting a global audience means ensuring that non-Australians can afford the programs.

Professor Oliver adds that, even among Australians, there are prospective students who are tied-down by work and family obligations, and for whom a distance-learning option would be preferable to the traditional university experience. They can also benefit from the online programs being developed for offshore students.

“The reason we need to change is because the world of work has changed fundamentally. When the future arrives and working from home is now the new norm for many people in many disciplines, many people will now spend their professional lives working from home.”
Beverley Oliver, National Teaching Fellow
EudGrowth Melbourne EdTech Summit - Beverley Oliver

Australia post-calamity

Professor Susan Elliott says that Australia has typically weathered post-calamity years quite well, whether those are the years following war, famine, recession, or any other issue. It is reasonable to suspect that Australia will also find its way through the post-Covid years.

  • Partnerships are key. The more Australia integrates with the global work and education sectors, the better poised it will be for the coming years.
  • Linking education to employability is vital. Once the pandemic has passed, graduates need to be prepared for the rapid opening of jobs.
  • Moving forward, the key issue to tackle is how to best leverage technology to address the goals of partnership and work-education to provide the best opportunities post-Covid.

 

Micro-credentialing

As the field of education develops in the 21st century, more and more people from diverse backgrounds are seeking an education. The traditional four-year degree program does not suit every person’s situation, and so the offerings from institutions are expanding in newer and different ways. Professor Oliver explores micro-credentialing, its purposes, its appeal, and its future.

  • Micro-credentials or alternative credentials are any certified training or education program that a person undergoes outside of the typical university degree system.
  • Micro-credentials can expand the skills of an already-employed worker in an industry where they cannot stop working to take on another full degree.
  • Micro-credentialing can bring academia and industry together to prepare courses of study more appropriate for workers in their actual day-to-day jobs.
  • It is a way for people to continue investing in their professional skill and value long after they have graduated from university.
“With the post-COVID situation worldwide, there’s going to be very high unemployment and a need for people to re-skill and retrain. Micro-credentials seems to be the way to go to help those students out, particularly as they are just trying to get back into the workforce.”
Bev Hudson, Navitas
EduGrowth Melbourne EdTech Summit - Bev Hudson

Up-skilling and Re-skilling

In fact, micro-credentials’ greatest advantage may be in providing workers an opportunity to up-skill into a higher position or to re-skill and move into a lateral position in their industry.

  • The Covid-19 pandemic is causing a shake-up of the workforce, with many leaving the education and healthcare workforces in particular.
  • Rather than seeking a new degree, these displaced workers can earn one or several micro-credentials to move sideways into a different occupation.
  • Even if workers do not plan to up-skill or re-skill, micro-credentials give them the opportunity to stay relevant in their field.
“Every industry must make sure its employees are up to date systemically, and systematically educated in order to do the core business.”
Beverley Oliver, National Teaching Fellow

Student performance in the digital medium

From their experience teaching both prior to and during the Covid-19 pandemic, Professors Elliott and Oliver agree that different classes of students are reacting quite differently to the migration online. They explain that:

  • Postgraduates are thriving in the digital environment. First years, without the structure of campus and physical classes, are struggling.
  • Younger students are finding difficulty in building circles of social support, and their performance is reflecting that.
  • International Students are saving money and reporting higher satisfaction with their experience from staying in their home country.

A mixed mode future

Although there is no predicting the future, Professors Susan Elliott and Beverley Oliver agree that the face of education must be multi-modal and the proportion of students seeking a “traditional” university experience may decline. Other changes include:

  • Universities may be put under pressure to offer online degrees at a discount to in-person degrees, and this could open the door to education for many more people worldwide.
  • Universities will be incentivized to offer more models of education to appeal to more groups of people. This could include the traditional 4-year degree, an online alternative, a hybrid model, and various models for international customers.

One thing is for certain, and that is that the Covid-19 pandemic has uncovered many new ways of offering quality education. And some of those modes have turned up surprising results. Whatever the future ushers in, education will not look the same after the events of 2020 and 2021.

“We’re certainly getting rid of the large chalk and talk type lecture where someone just exposed 500 people to their brilliance for an hour and it was difficult to concentrate on.”
Susan Elliott, Monash University
EduGrowth Melbourne EdTech Summit - Susan Elliott

Full Transcript

Bev Hudson:

It’s with great pleasure for me to introduce you to our next speakers, Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver and Professor Susan Elliott. Professor Beverley Oliver is a higher education consultant, speaker and researcher, focused on digital education, micro-credentials, curriculum transformation, quality assurance, and graduate employability. She is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Australia National Teaching Fellow and a Non-Executive Director of OpenLearning. Beverley is Past Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education at Deakin University, Past Deputy Chair at Universities Australia, Deputy Vice-Chancellors Academic and past Deputy Chair of EduGrowth. Welcome, Beverley.

Bev Hudson:

I’d also like to introduce Professor Susan Elliott, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education at Monash University. Susan leads a dedicated education portfolio and is focused on actively promoting engagement and advocacy in shaping the university’s education agenda. She is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and Past Deputy Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor International at the University of Melbourne. Her many appointments on national and international committees include being Past President of the Australian Pacific Association for International Educational, or APAIE.

Bev Hudson:

While institutions have been digitally transforming learning and teaching for some time, I have found that COVID-19 has actually accelerated and highlighted this work. Susan, perhaps I can ask you if this has been your experience?

Susan Elliott:

It’s interesting, Colette didn’t want to use the word accelerant, and I think we’re all trying to avoid the unprecedented word because we’re hearing it all the time, but there is no doubt that there has been an extraordinary acceleration in the digital progression in education. I think the thing that’s accelerated the most is in confidence. In confidence amongst academics and educators and teachers and confidence in our students… So many students said, “Oh, I can’t learn online, I won’t learn online, I’ll defer for a semester,” and thinking that COVID would just be a day or two and then out of their lives, but they’ve come in and our satisfactions are higher than ever.

Susan Elliott:

Student satisfaction scores and student performance is higher on average than the last decade. So we can argue that’s all because of lack of distractions and there’s more time to study, particularly if you’re down here in Melbourne. But I think there is no doubt that we have moved much faster through this period than we would have moved at our natural pace.

Bev Hudson:

Many of our students have found that they’re worried about how they’re going to do the exams, especially those students that have actually started their programs offshore when they intended to be face to face. How has this transformation been in Monash for example?

Susan Elliott:

It has allowed us to direct investment to a really important platform that we had underway, in an assessment platform or our computer delivered assessment platform. Now initially, we had intended that exams would still be in large rooms and physically invigilated, but they would be computer delivered and that’s what we were beginning to do in part to cut down the enormous amount of paper we were using, but also to deliver a much more authentic experience for students and to be able to use a whole range of question types that aren’t possible in a paper environment. So we were hitting down that way, and because Monash is on a number of continents, we’ve got campuses in Malaysia, China, India and are present initially, we have long had to try to do synchronous exams and we’ve been doing that in paper mode.

Susan Elliott:

But with this pandemic, we have accelerated really rapidly to develop remote invigilation capability. We looked at outsourcing that but couldn’t get the reliability when we piloted it. We run 360,000 exam sittings a year. That’s not the individual students. That’s the exams. We’re really Australia’s largest university. And we have managed to get 97% submission of exams. Interestingly, in paper exams, only 90% are submitted in the room, so 97% was a really good outcome. And we’ve used a system that works in our Moodle platform that can be used on any of the LMSs and was built within the Moodle system, and has an invigilation platform that we’ve developed. At the moment, it’s high-charged and it’s one invigilator to four students, but that’s because almost all of the students, except for those needing special circumstances, are doing their exams from their home. We’ve got 6,600 students studying offshore, so it’s remote invigilation across a whole range of networks.

Susan Elliott:

One of the challenges is time zones. We’ve decided that it’s only reasonable for a sit-in exam, not beginning before 8:30 AM, local time, not ending after 11:00 PM, local time. It’s still a long day, but that’s meant we’ve had to do special arrangements for those in the Americas and in parts of European time zones. But for the most part, we’ve been able to have synchronous remote invigilated exams with a high success rate. And I must say, students just hate being sat in a room and writing for three hours. No one handwrites anymore. So the format has proved really successful for us.

Bev Hudson:

Well, speaking of the student experiences, Beverley, perhaps I can bring you in now. What are some of the benefits we’re seeing for students with remote learning?

Beverley Oliver:

There are all sorts of opportunities and challenges coming at us. And I’m going to pick on those two words as well: one was accelerant and the other one was confidence. It’s great to see those two things now pushing us towards grasping this opportunity with both hands. The world of learning has changed. For 10 years prior to this, 20, 30, 40, some universities taught in distance mode since they were created. Many, in fact, use that level of technology. However, the pandemic has given us permission now to educate people this way. And as others have said, people won’t want to go back from this. Some will race back; some won’t have to. There are some disciplines that cannot be taught completely online, and that was always the case, but we will find new ways now.

Beverley Oliver:

The reason we need to change is because the world of work has changed fundamentally. When the future arrives and working from home is now the new norm for many people in many disciplines, again, many people will now spend their professional lives working from home. So how does a university, for example, do work integrated learning when you’re getting people ready to learn in the mode that we’re now communicating in. We don’t have much choice about pivoting, and taking this on, and taking the digital opportunity, onshore and offshore, that’s been presented to us because if we don’t do it now, we lose that opportunity. Now that’s a bit of a long-winded answer, but I hope I’ve come somewhere close to answering your first question.

Bev Hudson:

Some of the challenges that students have faced that Susan mentioned before, in reality, didn’t eventuate for them once they had the opportunity to learn. If we are looking at taking our digital delivery to be greater in the offshore area, what are the benefits and also challenges for putting your global program digitally and putting it out there in the world? Because I think many of us have perhaps had to jump to action, but how can we think about this for the future as you’ve put it, Beverly? How can we move the digital platform for our offshore students more?

Susan Elliott:

What we won’t lack is talent, and the platforms and the ways to engage people from multiple linguistic groups and multiple cultures. I think Australia is particularly talented at that. Our challenge is our cost structures. Our degrees are relatively expensive. Globally, you’d have to say they’re close to the top of the tree, and we don’t have the deep philanthropic or sanctuaries of investment and philanthropy that gives us the pockets to be able to deliver at a loss for periods until we can get a cost structure that works for us. So I think our biggest challenge when we look at going into countries such as the massive sub-continent of India, Nepal, Bangladesh with such great need and so much confluence in the ways that we can work with them. But it’s managing our costs that are being challenged. Beverly, what do you think?

Beverley Oliver:

Let’s face it, Australian degrees are very expensive. We need to separate two cohorts though. There’s a cohort who’s currently learning at home offshore because they couldn’t come, and they were offered a certain product, if I can call it that, and they were recruited in a certain way, and the price was around the option to have custody work rights and so on. That’s one group of people. We need to think about another group of people, and that is the people who are never coming onshore, because my theory is that, and it’s the same for Australia, there are many people who cannot simply uproot themselves, that have children in schools, that have jobs, that have mortgages in their home countries. They cannot just uproot themselves and come here for a wonderful on-campus experience and the post-study work rights. Many can. Many more can’t. And those people also seek education.

Beverley Oliver:

Those people are going to now be able to work differently as well. They’re going to be able to work in our country without actually coming here because digital work across boundaries and borders will only be constrained by time zones now. And we are starting to see it. I spoke to someone the other day who’s in Iceland and she informed me that lots of Icelanders and non-Icelanders are going to Iceland because now they can work in the Americas. They can also work across Europe because of the time zone and because digital is the new way of working. These are some of the things we need to think about and I do still think that regardless of how we deal with either of those cohorts, one of the big challenges in addition to pricing is employability. The future learner — the learner of now — is going to be hungrier for paid work, and they are going to expect paid work to come from the investment of engaging in a micro-credential, a macro-credential or how those things fit together.

Beverley Oliver:

One of the challenges is, if you start recruiting people who are going to stay in their own country, let’s say Nigeria, Vietnam, India, wherever, you need to be able to understand how work happens in that country so that you can, as far as possible, make your graduate ready to find and create even paid and unpaid, and meaningful work.

Bev Hudson:

Susan, you are president of APAIE and looking at a different consortium of universities. Is there an opportunity for Australia to get out perhaps on the front foot and do more together to promote equality within Australia?

Susan Elliott:

If we take COVID as a clear calamity, Australia post-calamities has done extraordinarily well. We have every reason to suspect or to hope that Australia will do very well post-COVID. And now’s the time for us to be preparing for what those steps are, and I think Beverly has identified what is going to be really important post-recession, depression, the employability link with education, how we do that indigenously and across borders. One would think that that’s going to need partnerships.

Susan Elliott:

International partnerships are the norm for Australian universities and for other education providers. It’s what we do naturally in research, it’s what we do increasingly in education. But we’re going to have to think much broader than the typical university partnership. I think we’re going to have to think and test ourselves in, how do we link either a tripartite with industry or employer organizations and in-country university? And also in terms of equality and addressing the deep divides that we have within our nation, particularly between indigenous and non-indigenous people, and then the inequalities you see between us and other nations. How can we use this new technology in the way it most enables people? And I think that’s the exciting thing that should be a driving force as we’re making up plans for the next five years, the next decade.

Bev Hudson:

Beverley, you spoke of employability and working with industry, how does micro-credentialing fit into this? Is that another micro-credentials we could tap into to enhance not only the reputation of Australia, but also the employability for students?

Beverley Oliver:

I think that is the obvious opportunity, and of course we’re not new to it. We’ve been doing it for a while. Back in 2012, we called things MOOCs and now we probably classify those MOOCs as part of a micro-credential offering. One thing we need to do is decide what we mean by a micro-credential and I think we’re getting close to that where most definitions of micro-credentials or alternative credentials these days work around the idea of. It’s anything that’s not quite a full recognized qualification, so a short course and so on. There are some other parameters some people believe must be assessed, and not just participation and so on. There is an obvious move to this and an obvious move by industry. In fact, the industry is offering its own micro-credentials and sometimes universities and higher education providers are just trailing behind and playing catch up.

Beverley Oliver:

We absolutely need partnership and these have to be deep partnerships where we actually co-create these things with the industry. Industry as the lead partner and educators as almost a secondary partner. Because industry has the jobs, they know where the jobs are, they know what the skills are that they need, and education has the expertise. Now bring those two together. We need to almost turn it on its head. I’ve worked in three universities over many years, and the usual way of thinking in a very supply-side industry is, “We have some experts in X, we’re going to put a course together.”

Beverley Oliver:

We didn’t always start from, “What would happen to those people when they actually had done the degree?” We gave them permission to hunt for employment. But that has to change, and I think what we need to do now is actually have a deep embedding with industry partners who have positions that they’re trying to fill. And almost come to the idea of offering a bundle, a bundle that is not just, “Here’s a credential and we’re going to charge this much money for it,” but we’re bundling together a position, even limited numbers of positions in this industry with this employer and we’re going to co-create this educational offer. Together we’re going to co-assess it. We’re going to have much better assessment. We’re going to have feedback which is constructive advice on how to improve your performance in this field. That’s where we need to come to enhance the value proposition for our learners.

Beverley Oliver:

I’m particularly talking about learners across the lifespan. I’m not necessarily talking about the first degree and a bachelor degree that most people go through. I think a lot of people will still go through that experience, and often it will be back on campus when we can be, but we have to look to the future of the lifelong learner who continues to learn to up-skill and re-skill across the lifespan. This is now a lifelong proposition and that’s why it has to be cost-effective and the benefits have to be clear. And we have to convince the learners and particularly the material working learners in every country, including Australia, that this is an investment you must keep making and we will deliver that value for you.

Bev Hudson:

It’s an investment, I agree, that students need to keep making. And with the post-COVID situation worldwide, there’s going to be very high unemployment, and no opportunity, and a need for people to re-skill and retrain. They may have some work, and micro-credentials seems to be the way to go to help those students out, particularly as they are just trying to get back into the workforce.

Bev Hudson:

One of the issues that I found is that there are many great instructors that are happy to take on the challenge to work in a way as institutions to just support not only our students, but to support our teaching staff to probably change what they have been doing for an awful long time.

Susan Elliott:

That has been an enormous challenge this year. Our students arrived back on campus in March on a Monday, and Tuesday Melbourne shutdown. Our first students had one day on campus, and by the end of the week we had to get everything online. That was an enormous challenge. And people have done it to various extents. Some people have created the most fabulous, engaging experiences and other people have not done as well. Hoping that this would be a temporary blip, we’ll just do lectures online for a little while and just do exactly what they’ve done, like sit in an empty lecture theater and have it recorded and the world would go back. But it’s really clear that that’s not going to happen.

Susan Elliott:

It’s terribly sad. We can see the higher ed sector is likely to lose 4,600 jobs across Australia as the international education market crashes. And I suspect there are going to be people who decide that this isn’t going to be what they want. They will take the voluntary departures that are on offer for folks at most of our universities, including mine sadly. We are going to get a trimming, probably of those who recognize that this isn’t going to be our last pandemic. Public infectious diseases folk have already identified what they think would be the next pandemic, which is just awful to think about, but we are going to be doing this more and more.

Susan Elliott:

How do we take a profession that universities have largely been focused on ensuring are absolutely cutting edge in their own research skills, but not necessarily cutting edge in terms of their teaching? It is a time when we’ve decided you’re going to have to learn, and these are the expectations we will have of you. And some of them, of course, are racing well ahead.

Susan Elliott:

But others really do need to be educated, themselves. We just ran the micro-credential ed technology for health professions, and it was oversubscribed. So I think providers should start looking at the employability of their own employees. And sadly, as Susan has said, it’s been a hot topic lately in universities and not for good reasons and that is because staff fall out and that’s tragic. And we can see that’s causing a great deal of pain.

Beverley Oliver:

The idea that you made people do a teaching and learning certificate was always like, “Oh, really? Do I have to?” It’s not something that people often love to do. I think we, as people in the ecosystem, have a duty of care to make sure that people have core capabilities across the entire gamut of skills. And Susan is exactly right, we don’t blink about up-skilling people in their research methods, in the latest software analysis and evaluation and so on. But teaching and learning has become a chore. For people’s own employability in the sector, we need to make sure they are future ready.

Beverley Oliver:

This is a wonderful opportunity for leaders to think again about redefining how this sector works and how it looks after its employees. I’m not suggesting that no one has been looking after their employees, but we need to be more realistic about what the up-skilling and re-skilling is that people working in the higher education sector need in order to return to learn to earn. If I put it that way, it’s the same as all other industries in many other ways. It’s a chance to rethink it and put something together, which is agile, which is future-focused, and that people are eager to engage in. And I think some of the examples that Susan has given us are examples of grassroots ideas and movements. These are often the things that really catch on.

Beverley Oliver:

That has certainly been my role at two universities: Curtin for a long time, and Deakin. I totally agree with Susan. We need to think about universities now and higher education providers as large employers. There are 19 industries in the Australian labor market, one of them is education and training. And it’s timely to remind ourselves. I still count myself as working in that ecosystem, if not a particular university, that we too are an industry. Education and training is an industry. Every industry must make sure its employees are up to date systemically, and systematically educated in order to do the core business.

Bev Hudson:

Let’s look at the next five years and what we envision in this new era of education. Is the future mixed mode or partly person, partly digital? Is that something that we’ll look for in general, or what do you see in five years time?

Susan Elliott:

Absolutely, I think we were heading to mixed mode. We’re certainly getting rid of the large chalk and talk type lecture where someone just exposed 500 people to their brilliance for an hour and it was difficult to concentrate on. It’s fascinating to look at how students are coping, and how satisfied they are and how they’re performing during this time. I think it’s really hard to be informed of how we go forward. The post-graduates and people over 25, which there’s a big overlap in those students over 25, are thriving in this environment. They are much preferring online learning, and most don’t want to come back. And there’s some international onshore in Australia where they really do want face-to-face learning, because that’s such an important part of their networking in Australia. But for the majority of students at postgraduate level, if they’re either international offshore or in the juristic, they are loving online and that’s the predominant mode they want. They’re happy for the master class, happy for the symposium. They want to react with other people and other ideas, but a lot of it they want to do online.

Susan Elliott:

Our younger students, those under 21 are finding this harder, particularly first years. It’s no surprise. They don’t know what university is. They have been in Monash for one day on campus. This is a really tough year for them to try and conceptualize what campus can give them. I mean, Stephen Parker, the former vice chancellor of Canberra University and a great educational provocateur describes undergraduate degrees as intellectual national service. Those who go to university do it from the ages of 18 to 21, 22, 23. They make their friends, often for life. They get their grounding in their degree. They explore their sports, their arts, their culture, the whole sort of whatever their club is. They often make their life partner. There is so much social embedding in that. And in that, I’m talking about the young school leaver undergraduate, very distinct from the mature age undergraduate, who has a very different approach. It’s interesting, of all of our students in the student satisfaction survey, the happiest group are the international offshore students, now who are studying online. I think it’s because they are in their home, they’re with their friends, they’re happy with the education they’re receiving online but they have the social networks that they would normally have.

Susan Elliott:

And they’re saving money by not living in Australia, compared to the other cohorts here who are feeling a lot, especially Melbourne. The restrictions are so challenging. I think it’s going to be just like your preference for bread or cereal or ice cream flavors. We’re going to need to have a whole lot of different offerings that not only follow what we know about neuroscience and the science of learning, but also meets the age and stage and circumstances of our learners.

Bev Hudson:

Beverley, in five years time, what does our students’ population look like in the digital world?

Beverley Oliver:

I’m going to go bigger picture and I’d like to call out to EduGrowth’s main constituents, its members, the startups and scaleups who are coming up with clever ideas, business ideas to help the education sector, the Edu-Startups and the EdTechs. In five years time Bev, we’re going to see a more hybrid sector. We’re going to see more partnerships between traditional providers and the startups and scaleups. Moodle was founded at a University Curtin, in fact many years ago and has gone on to be a very successful platform and so have many others. The Australian sector has produced many clever graduates who’ve created companies in tech companies.

Beverley Oliver:

And these clever graduates have created jobs for their peers as well. This is the future for the sector. We’re going to see a sector where those third parties are needed more and more. We’ve seen people form deep partnerships with the Keypaths and the OES and other companies. These are not outsiders. These are our colleagues and they have become integral to the ecosystem.

Beverley Oliver:

That’s what I hope we see, that we see all these successful businesses and Navitas, one of the most successful examples, as a broader ecosystem including the private and independent providers as well. We become richer, more diverse and integrated because we’ve all got something to offer and if you think of all the cleverness that’s come from the startups who’ve become scaleups and very large companies then the sector is much improved for their contribution. I’m hoping in five years time, we will continue to see this part of the sector really grow to help us all educate whoever is in the sector and if we’re clever, we will engage more with the mature learner. The undergraduate learners will continue to come. But working Australia really needs an education system that engages with it and provides value.

Elissa Newall:

Going back to the conversation around pricing and the thinking that Australian providers might need to do if they’re going to access different markets globally. There are a number of different business model innovations being explored by other universities around the world. And the example that someone suggested is around Georgia Tech. They offered a master’s degree for $10,000 as a digital version, whereas the on-campus version is $70k. Is this something that you could see applied in the Australian context?

Susan Elliott:

Absolutely, and I think many universities’ online versions are less expensive than their on-campus version. Some universities have gone down the path of saying, look, the degree, the excellence of the degree, the quality that goes into the brand of the degree with which you graduate is exactly the same whether it’s online or on-campus, so the cost will be the same. Others have differentiated. I think there will be pressure on us to differentiate more than we have done, and that will require different business models, which will include partnerships because of universities’ relatively high cost models. We can’t compete with the cost of many commercial entities that Bev has just mentioned. We can’t run at that cost because of the arrangements, the enterprise bargain, and other arrangements that we have. So, partnerships are critical and that’s what we’re seeing.

Elissa Newall:

One attendee has had some involvement in setting up an Offshore Learning Center, one of the things that a lot of universities had done in response to this calamity. But they found that the focus of that Offshore Learning Center was really about trying to encourage and attract students to eventually move to Australia. The question is, “How do you think that Australian universities could better leverage their offshore models to do something a bit better, a bit something more cost-effective, something more sustainable, something a bit broader in thinking?” Do you have any ideas around that?

Beverley Oliver:

It’s a different model, it’s a different group of people. My experience is with the recruitment process for an offshore to become an onshore learner. That’s an entirely different skillset from recruiting the offshore learner to stay where they are and actually engage completely digitally. I think we need to separate those two things, and because I think there’s a whole large underserved population who, if we think about price and we think about scale, the reason Georgia Tech was so successful is because they got scale and I’ll give a counterexample of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who actually canceled their on-campus, $80,000 odd experience in the MBA and actually just went with the much cheaper 22,000US MBA on Coursera. Macquarie is doing something very similar here with a $33,000 Australian MBA running alongside the campus experience. I think what you’re seeing here is that if you go digital, you can actually recruit anyone from anywhere in the world who has the bandwidth and the capacity to pay and the capacity to learn. That’s a much bigger population than if you’re geographically bound to a particular city.

Bev Hudson:

Just to add to that, I do think it’s not one size fits all and there are the different groups that we have to think of very differently. For students that are coming to Australia to complete their studies, I think it’s very important that we prepare them for that journey that they want to go on. Students that are studying in an offshore experience do need some sort of connection. We have to not lose sight of that, it’s not just necessarily the learning that we’ll do but they do need a connection with their peers. And I think that’s very important and that’s what we’re finding in the work that we’re doing in the offshore world and a lot of the students that are happy to stay in a digital mode at the moment still want the connection. They still want that digital campus experience of some sort, so that they’re connecting into the institution and also feel part of the institution.

Elissa Newall:

Working about that digital campus, what’s your prediction? Do you think that, say in the next five years the digital campus will be the main campus? Or we’re going to be flipping our language around or is that sort of too soon to be thinking that.

Bev Hudson:

My understanding is there are a lot of students and international students that do want a campus experience. They do want to meet with students. I think this is the difference from the first degree to online learning forever, MOOCs and those sorts of areas. But I think that you have to seriously think of some legislation changes for international students when they come to Australia, so that they get the best of both worlds. I do think it might be a hybrid for the further short term.