Friday, August 22, 2008

Review of Australian Higher Education

The Federal Government's Review of Australian Higher Education is due to report by October. The Discussion Paper (June 2008) touches on the high cost of e-learning:
Universities are also confronting the very major costs of moving to computer-mediated, electronic and flexible delivery modes, while at the same time attempting to sustain, as far as possible, their campus-based and face-to-face teaching approaches. While there may arguably be some downstream savings from increased use of ‘e-learning’, there are enormous transitional costs in creating digital libraries, converting existing courses and developing new ones, and establishing new electronic infrastructure. International evidence also suggests that these costs will recur frequently due to the rate of change in technology and student expectations for both e-learning and face-to-face teaching.
One way for universities and other tertiary institutions to lower the cost is to share infrastructure. Universities already do this for their Internet access via AARnet. The TAFEs are cooperating with e-learning content via the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. However, the TAFEs are tending to charge small amounts of money for other TAFEs to use their courseware. This is restricting the use of the content due to the need for accounting, without providing significant revenue. The federal government could change its rules to encourage tertiary institutions to develop free open access courseware. As an example some federal funding could require open access results as a condition of funding. The government could also offer the TAFEs a one off fee to make the existing courseware open access.

The distinction between vocational and the rest of the higher education sector for funding of the development of e-learning content, tools and training could also be removed. Te vocational education sector in Australia has a coordinated approach to e-learning development, with cooperation encouraged by federal government funding programs. In contrast the universities each have their own overlapping uncoordinated and competing programs. This is a waste of public money. The federal programs should be modified to encourage cooperation between universities and with the vocational sector (which has much to teach universities).

Vocational and university sectors have separate e-portfolio programs. These could also be usefully brought together.

In addition the universities could be encouraged to work with professional bodies. As an example the ACS is working on global standards for education of ICT professionals. This will likely include e-portfolios, as well as curriculum standards.

I am not sure that cooperation by universities with each other and with the vocational sector is the "big, bold idea" which Professor Bradley, review chair, is looking for, but it might help.

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