Creating New Futures: High-speed broadband and higher education

Information Services PVC Linda O’Brien attended a by-invitation forum at the University of Melbourne on Thursday 27 September entitled Creating New Futures: High-speed broadband and higher education.  Senator Hon Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy delivered the forum’s opening address, noting that maintaining the status quo in the higher education sector is not an option.

The forum’s topics included; the effects of regulation on the higher education sector, higher education policy, scenarios for learning and teaching in 2015, MOOCs, market drivers, and the importance of students having connected learning experiences and personalised interaction with academics.

The forum presented a range of perspectives on the state of our higher education sector.  One of the keynote speakers at the forum was Professor Peter Goodyear, ARC Laureate Fellow and Professor of Education, Centre for Research on Computer Supported Learning and Cognition, The University of Sydney. Professor Goodyear’s keynote address was a sobering reminder that high-speed broadband and new technologies are not the answer to all our problems.   New possibilities and demands on universities’ operating environments have the potential for deeply fragmenting a student’s learning experience, as well as leaving universities wondering what their core business should be.

The issues around the higher education sector’s core business drew comment throughout the two-day forum, as did TEQSA’s regulatory framework.

Many at the forum believed that universities need to be promoting the unique value that a university education brings, as compared to alternatives.  Universities have expertise in forming views about what is worth knowing, and these views are informed by robust research.  We also have expertise in certification and our reputations will be a critical factor in our future success.

TEQSA’s regulatory framework, and the impact it will have on the sector’s future success, was also a key topic of discussion.  Several speakers at the forum challenged the view of Dr Don Russell, Secretary, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE) that TEQSA’s regulations aren’t barriers.  The TEQSA regulatory framework was considered by many to be built for universities of the last century, rather than being modelled on our current environment, and represent potential obstacles to positive change.

In the forum’s closing presentation, Professor Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor, The University of Melbourne, reiterated everyone’s concerns about regulation noting that TEQSA offers us an inflexible framework which will ultimately skew the way we do things.  Our current environment is one of rapid change, and how do we make regulation work in a model of innovation?  The forum ended on a positive note, with Professor Davis noting that local knowledge will always be important, and knowledge is a fundamental part of our business.

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