Universities need to evolve to adapt to changing times, says Australian educationist

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Sydney, July 17 (IANS) Amid warnings that about 40 per cent of existing university degrees will soon become obsolete, a leading Australian educationist has said that much shorter courses, with more online ones, would have to be the focus of future education with emphasis on “life-long learning” to continuously upgrade skills.

University of New South Wales (UNSW) President and Vice-Chancellor Ian Jacobs said: “Universities need to evolve and one of the challenges is the changing work environment and the need for people to have lifelong education… we’re already thinking about short courses that fit with what industry wants.”

UNSW has begun to introduce a small number of post-graduate courses that are the equivalent of about one-eighth of a semester’s workload.

The varsity is also reconfiguring its bachelor’s degrees by creating a “blended experience”, with more content available online and a greater focus on student and teacher interaction on campus, Jacobs said.

“We’re changing the way we do face-to-face learning so we will, like many other universities, be having (fewer) big lecture rooms full of students, a lot of that will be delivered online,” Jacobs told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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“We’ll be adapting our campus to allow much more interaction.”

Students may also initially spend far less time at university than currently and keep coming back throughout their careers to update their skills, Jacobs said.

An Ernst and Young report in May said that about 40 per cent of existing university degrees would soon become obsolete and traditional undergraduate or postgraduate degrees could disappear within a decade with growing numbers of employers and students saying that many courses no longer align with industry requirements.

According to a report in wired.com, Microsoft, Linux and other employers have teamed up with edX, a collaboration started by Harvard and MIT, to provide online education that is much easier than brick-and-mortar programmes to keep up to date and to disseminate to vast numbers of students simultaneously.

The courses help teach skills the students need in order to work for Microsoft, Amazon or Google, like the highly specialized Linux System Administration, or Office 365 Fundamentals – as well as abilities like critical thinking and collaboration.

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In India too, online courses are becoming very popular and has seen a marked jump over the last few years. India has the third largest online learning market with 1.3 million learners right after the US and China, according to eletsonline.com.

A report last year said that the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has decided to shut down about 800 engineering colleges due to over 27 lakh seats lying vacant in various engineering institutes across the country.

“Universities need to evolve and one of the challenges is the changing work environment and the need for people to have lifelong education … we’re already thinking about short courses that fit with what industry want,” Jacobs said.

He said the changes at the university were also aimed at improving student satisfaction.

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Jacobs said he expected far greater numbers of students from all over the world studying online-only courses in the future.

UNSW has started to move in this direction with its PLuS Alliance partnership with Arizona State University and King’s College London, which this year launched an online degree in international public health.

“I do see this as a really important direction of travel because the demand for higher education globally is growing exponentially … (the estimates) are that by the end of this century, it will exceed 50 per cent of the world’s population,” Professor Jacobs said.

“And I’m convinced that it is possible to deliver high quality online education in an interactive way with really clever assessment and feedback that keeps students engaged.”

According to the Ernst and Young research paper on the university of the future, universities will also need to begin the move towards “lifelong learning”, that is delivered largely online, in the next five years to survive.

–IANS

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