Rapid technological change is reshaping the way we live and work. The way we learn, therefore, must also change. The formation of Australia’s universities followed the first industrial revolution – the transition from mostly agricultural economies to those dominated by machine-based manufacturing.
We are now in the midst of what has been called the 4th industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. This is creating a new global economy, one increasingly influenced by the rise automation and data exchange in manufacturing – technologies including cyber-physical systems, the internet of things, cloud and cognitive computing.
Universities themselves are contributing to this process through their role in research and development. Now they must also reflect it in the way they teach and interact with industry – the university of 2040 will be a product as well as a propagator of change.
We already know the future of work is global: workers of the future will need to understand international business practices, have foreign language skills, and the ability to build networks, both global and local. This is creating demand for different kinds of skills and different qualifications. At the same time technological progress and evolving business models and practices are disrupting the way such qualifications can be delivered.
Australia’s higher education sector has spent more than five decades establishing itself as a global powerhouse worth $A32 billion annually.
To continue to thrive, it must look towards new forms of teaching and new markets in areas such as borderless and offshore delivery. It must adapt to a new era, Education 4.0.
The challenge comes from all sides – from international competitors, from technology and from industry itself.
While Australian universities are currently seeing strong growth in international enrolments, we can expect greater competition for students in future, including from what is currently our largest source market, China.
China is rapidly increasing the quality and scale of its domestic education offering and aspires to be a net importer of students, rather than an exporter. It is working on bringing 100 of its universities up to a world-class standard and this is beginning to show in global university rankings.
If Australian universities are to remain competitive their offering must be as up-to-date and responsive as possible. This means practical and applied curricula that provide relevant, intensive immersion courses.
Employers are looking for agile, intelligent employees with 21st Century skills – problem solving, creativity, collaboration, teamwork – and this in itself presents issues because they are increasingly willing to provide the necessary training themselves.
Students of the future may have the option of bypassing higher education altogether and going straight into a business or industry which has created its own education programs. Companies increasingly want to be part of providing a pathway for school students into “new collar” jobs, rather than blue or white collar ones, jobs that reflect societal needs. One way of doing this may be through developing links with progressive schools rather than universities.
Before it has even opened its doors, Lindfield Learning Village, in Sydney’s north – a public sector K-12 school in Sydney set to open in 2019 – has already fielded approaches from AT&T, Microsoft and the CSIRO. Some large multinationals such as EY in the UK are experimenting with no longer requiring a degree as a prerequisite for recruitment, stating that they see no link between university success and professional achievement.
The trend towards micro-credentialing is one example of why this might be happening. Micro-credentials provide a set of skills or knowledge within a given subject field that is more strictly defined and outcome-oriented than a traditional degree or diploma.
They are often designed to address specific workforce needs and can be recognised through a system of digital badging. Micro-credentialing is as much as an opportunity for universities as a threat, and university innovation in this space is commendable, including that of DeakinCo and RMIT.
But it shows our institutions cannot afford to sit back and assume their traditional offering will automatically remain the gold standard in postschool education. Like Massive Open Online Courses and other open-access resources for students, micro-credentials are enabled by technology, providing new solutions that potentially disrupt established models of university education.
Yet technology also offers opportunities if harnessed in the right way. It allows universities to drill into niche segments, for example, providing highly structured online learning that meets industry needs.
Online platforms like Smart Sparrow, which helps educators better support and motivate students, show how the benefits of a private lesson can be shared limitlessly across students, time and locations.
This is important because every student who sets foot on a campus has unique needs and expectations. By forming partnerships with edtech providers, universities can use technology to pioneer smarter ways of responding to this, delivering scalable yet personalised experiences.
Indeed, universities need to expand partnerships with industry across the board, looking for synergy in potential educational ecosystems, as well as sharpening their contribution to research and development.
The Government has invested considerably in fostering those critical partnerships over many years now, particularly through its National Innovation and Science Agenda. The Linkage Project grants, for example, provides funding of $50,000 to $300,000 for two to five years for collaboration projects across government, business and academia.
The ARC Centres of Excellence also act as a lightning rod for collaboration between academia, governments and businesses, publicly funded research organisations and other research bodies. ARC’s 2018 priorities for its Industrial Transformation Research Program include advanced manufacturing and cyber security, two fields that are absolutely central to Industry 4.0.
The challenge for our universities is to help create this change without becoming victims of it. Rapid technological change is reshaping the way we live and work. The way we learn, therefore, must also change.
The formation of Australia’s universities followed the first industrial revolution – the transition from mostly agricultural economies to those dominated by machine-based manufacturing.
Executive Officer of Austrade, the Australian Government agency responsible for promoting trade, investment and international education, and tourism policy, programs and research. Stephanie has over 30 years’ experience both as an academic and executive working in Australia and overseas.
Previously she was EY’s lead partner for education in the Oceania region, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Global Engagement) at Monash University and Director of the University of Sydney’s Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific. Dr Fahey brings an international perspective to her work and a wealth of experience across business and academia.
Austrade’s first female chief executive, Dr Fahey has also served on the Australia China Business Council, the Australia China Council, the NSW International Education Advisory Board, the European Australian Business Council, the Board of Canberra Institute of Technology, the Foreign Affairs Council and the Australia Korean Foundation. Stephanie holds a PhD from the Australian National University and BA (Hons) from the University of Sydney. She speaks Melanesian Pidgin. She was inducted as a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors in 2012.