Making our students’ dreams come true
- Student expectations are changing and are becoming online centric
- Government funding policies are changing
- There is increasing competition within tertiary education
I think universities will face many very fundamental challenges over the course of the next 5 to 10 years. First, I think the expectations of students are changing. Students who are particularly working in an online world have different expectations than students that went to university even as little as 10 or 15 years ago in terms of the nature of the campus life and the experience that they get.
The second challenge is the funding models that we operate under, which are largely supported by government policy, are changing. We need to be flexible enough to accommodate whatever those government funding policy changes are.
I think universities will also come under increasing competition. Universities are a sector that I think will be disrupted by new entrants, new entrants that actually leverage technology potentially better than we do. And we've seen this happen in many other industries over the course of the last 10 years and I think it would be a mistake for universities to think that they are somehow immune to those disruptive forces that may enter the market. Part of that is actually the increasing number of credentials that you can achieve entirely online.
So we are a campus-based university and we still will remain a campus-based university grounded in Western Sydney, but we need to keep our eye on the fact that there are quite a few very ambitious and aggressive online providers who can operate from anywhere and offer very credible credentials to students and not require them to step onto a campus at all.
The majority of our students at the university are coming straight out of high school and over the last 10 years, the rate of adoption and the amount of change within the technology environment has meant that their expectations are completely different than those who came only a few short years before them. They're digital natives as is often said, and their expectations of the university is that they can engage with us not just on campus but online in a manner that's very similar to how they use all of the other services that are available to them.
To address the changing expectations of students, we are running a major program called the 21st Century Curriculum program, which is about having a hard look at what we teach, how we teach it and in fact why we're teaching it because we really want our students to be prepared for the very fluid job market that they will face once they leave university.
The thing that's commonly said is that we just need to teach our students how to learn so that the notion of lifelong learning is actually something that they carry into the workforce. So, what we're looking at is partly how we can deliver more of our curriculum online so that students who can't necessarily make it to campus can still achieve their objectives through Western Sydney University via an online channel.
We're also looking at the way we can structure the curriculum so that students can dip in and out of multiple disciplines, rather than being tied into a single discipline. And we're also looking at how we can break the curriculum down into smaller chunks - we call them pods, for instance - so that they can develop some of the softer skills that they need when they get to the workforce, rather than some of the hard skills, which are also a necessary part of the curriculum but not the only thing they need when they get into the workplace.
We talk about wanting to be very student-centred because they are the reason that they're here. At the end of the day, we're trying to help our students make their dreams come true. But what that actually means is that the boundaries between staff and students and also between the university and the community are becoming far more diffused. We actually want our students to engage with the community. We want our students to get more work-integrated learning. We want our professional staff to understand what motivates students so they can provide better support to them, and the academic staff are absolutely fundamental to establishing the knowledge that the students need to be successful.