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What will Australian universities look like in 20 years?

What will Australian universities look like in 20 years?


I was asked this recently after giving a keynote address at a conference, during which I outlined the federal government agenda in relation to higher education.


It’s a difficult question to answer but I thought I’d give it a whirl as most people reading this will forget to check back in 20 years so I’m fairly certain I won’t be a laughing stock in 2029 (always a worry).


In 2029, I’ll be in my mid 60s and still working thanks to changes to superannuation laws. My children, now entering their teens, will be in their 30s. It’s hard to imagine.


Perhaps it’s harder to imagine less certain things than ageing, including what developments in the higher education sector might have brought. I think there are at least three likely developments – improved access, greater institutional differentiation and better teaching.


Universities will be further along the continuum of access, which ranges from elite, through mass, to universal. Universities will, therefore, be bigger – they will have both more students and more staff. Both will come from a wider range of backgrounds than is the case today.


Partly because of the expansion in size, there will be greater differentiation between universities in Australia. Institutional missions will be more prominent and universities will work toward them more explicitly.


For example, the Go8s are likely to be highly, if not exclusively, focused on postgraduate education. Universities that are highly skilled and experienced in teaching students from low SES and otherwise ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds will have had, and may still have, leadership roles in the sector providing advice and guidance to those with less experience in these endeavours.


There will be more students but the student population will still be skewed toward those from higher socio-economic backgrounds, although less so than at present.


Fewer staff will have PhDs, more will have teaching qualifications (and hallelujah to the latter). The professionalisation of university teaching will continue to increase over the intervening years so that by 2029, most university teachers will have some form of training and certification as teachers. The collusion in agreeing with the nonsensical argument that a PhD or industry expertise prepares one to teach at university will have ceased.


In 2029, university teaching will be taken seriously. The challenges associated with teaching students from a broad range of backgrounds across geographically diverse locations using leading edge technology will be recognised. Teaching will have a high status, it will be appropriately rewarded and those who need help to improve will be routinely be provided with the necessary support and development.


(I know, I know, it’s fanciful, but I might just be right. Let’s hope on the third point that I’m spot on).

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