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A Re-imagining of University Education

By Professor Zlatko Skrbis
Vice-Chancellor and President, Australian Catholic University

The fact is that students require an educational experience that is different from that of the past – one which is future-focused, technologically enabled and impact driven. With technologically enriched processes increasing accessibility and delivering a learner-centred experience, the digital transformation of educational delivery has been critical in meeting this need. Furthermore, to balance the advantages of a digital classroom with benefits that can only be obtained through human interaction, universities are adapting other aspects of their educational repertoire.

When we reimagine, we open ourselves up to possibility. A need for change can serve as a catalyst for finding new opportunities and charting new directions. The world is changing on many fronts. This has compelled universities to sharpen their value proposition and transform their pedagogical approaches.

Over the next ten years, we can expect to see much educational effort being focused on achieving objectives associated with sustainable economic development. These include working to reduce disadvantage and inequality, building person-centric health systems, addressing issues surrounding global warming, and creating socially responsible growth economies. People who face disadvantage are the ones least likely to enter higher education. To break down structural and social barriers that prevent participation, universities will be seeking to provide inclusive options for underrepresented groups to access pathway, tertiary and micro-credentialisation options.

Through technological advancement, universities will be looking for opportunities to improve and enhance pedagogical techniques intended to train the future workforce. The use of augmented reality and virtual reality technologies in the classroom, for instance, is making huge advances and will continue to do so.

The following decade will also see greater interdisciplinarity being incorporated into university teaching and learning. Many of the world’s challenges will require such an approach to solve them and this is where the humanities and the social sciences will continue to play an important role in education. Irrespective of the course being delivered, we can hope to see subjects, such as philosophy, sociology, politics and economics, embedded into the learning experience. This will not only improve students’ understanding of the social complexities that influence the global landscape, but will hone their skills in communication, problem solving, and ethical reasoning. Universities will also be looking to integrate these skills in a manner that is relevant to their students and allows them to apply these learnings by incorporating opportunities to undertake civic engagement and community volunteering practicums as part of their academic journey.

The coming decade will see universities using their physical spaces to build microcosms of future ambition. Co-labs, innovation hubs and business accelerators will be used to foster communities of collaboration and enable future change makers by providing students the opportunity, space and support to focus on their own venture creations. In particular, universities will be directing their investment in entrepreneurial education towards advancing the global common good. They will encourage students to apply the principles of entrepreneurship towards achieving positive social or environmental impact and empower them to search for innovative and sustainable solutions to social problems they believe are important.

University-industry collaborations with like-minded partners will be an additional component in the entrepreneurial skill development of students. Industry co-location on campuses is gaining considerable traction and will likely be a predominant feature of the future university. The advantage for students is that they will have industry integrated learning and research opportunities on their doorstep. The transition to the workforce is infinitely more seamless if they have already been applying their learnings to real life contexts and have developed a familiarity with workforce realities. The advantage for industry is that they have input into the types of knowledge and skills being taught to future workers in their field and have ready access to trained recruits, world-class researchers and state-of-the-art facilities.

Change can lead to new opportunities. This is just a glimpse of the direction in which university education is likely to head in the near future. Perhaps the most important point is that nothing will, or indeed should, remain the same.

And, in the face of change, education must always be reimagined.


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