Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tony Abbott Address to Universities Australia Higher Education Conference

The leader of the federal opposition, Tony Abbott, made an Address to Universities Australia Higher Education Conference in Canberra, 28 February 2013.  He started by referring to his studies at Oxford University and his time boxing there (but did not mention Oxford has been offering on-line courses since at least 2009).  at He pointed to education as Australia's biggest export, after minerals. He proposed a "... new, two-way street version of the Colombo Plan building on the original one that brought tens of thousands of students from around our region to study in Australia", with the the Menzies Research Centre hosting a policy development roundtable to work on a "... Rhodes Scholarship for our region".

Mr Abbott also expressed a wish for Australian universities to take advantage of online learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), however no funding or other support was proposed for this. A Coalition Online Higher Education Working Group, looking at how "... online technology improve existing campus-based teaching with all the benefits of interaction, in the classroom and beyond..." (chaired by Alan Tudge, with Karen Andrews, Senator Fiona Nash, Senator Stephen Parry, Nola Marino, and Rowan Ramsey). These are very timely questions to be asked, as on-line courses are transforming education, including university education.

It is not clear if MOOCs will be more than a 21st Century version of the DOT.COM bubble, with no cl;ear business case. But it is clear that e-learning is an effective form of education. The question is how to implement it while maintaining the cultural and economic benefits of the Australian education system. For my own take on this, see: "On-line Professional Education For Australian Research-Intensive Universities in the Asian Century" and "Proposal for Teaching ICT Masters Students How to Teach On-line".


Terms of Reference


Australia enjoys an enviable international reputation for delivering world class higher education.
International education is Australia’s fourth biggest export and our largest services export industry.
Like so many other parts of our society and economy, the Australian higher education sector can rightly stand proud of its achievements and international reputation. But resting on past achievements is never as important as looking toward the challenges of the future.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is the digital revolution and the global trend toward increased reliance on technology and online resourcing. Just as the digital revolution is transforming printed media and retail, it will almost certainly transform higher education.
The Coalition understands that the possibilities and benefits of online learning opportunities are enormous for all involved in higher education. We firmly believe that Australian higher education institutions are uniquely placed to take advantage of future online learning opportunities.
Our history, current international standing and world class reputation for excellence are all factors that potentially give Australia a competitive advantage when it comes to online education opportunities.
The biggest danger is for Australia to be left behind.
The Coalition knows that higher education institutions are best placed to deal with future challenges and opportunities.
The task for government is to ensure public policy provides the capabilities and incentives so that our students can tap the opportunities that online higher education can deliver. Most importantly, the Coalition believes it is crucial that government does whatever it can to ensure higher education providers are able to embrace online opportunities.
Traditional higher education models are vitally important and while they remain a central focus of government policy, we must also have an eye on the future.
We believe online learning has great potential to increase access and choice for students, enabling greater customisation and a better balance with work and family demands.
The online trend cannot be ignored The potential benefits of online learning for Australian students, higher education institutions and the economy are enormous.
Online education can allow students to access more customised, effective and efficiently delivered education at the time of their choice. For students living in remote areas, or possessing disabilities or juggling work or family responsibilities, greater online education will make access to higher education easier.
It also has the potential to speed up learning, allowing students to save money and enter the workforce more rapidly. The traditional university model is built around lecture-theatre and academic availability during a 26 week per annum schedule. People increasingly expect to be able to work, learn and study whenever and wherever they want.
Other countries are moving rapidly The most important evidence of how online education is transforming higher education can be found by looking at the growing involvement of some of the world’s most prestigious universities, including Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford. These institutions have begun to offer premium learning content in the form of “massive open online courses” (MOOCs).
MOOCs are offered by these universities through online providers such as Coursera and edX. Over two million people have registered for these courses. Within six months of joining Coursera, Melbourne University had more students online than on campus.
Currently, the vast majority of MOOCs are free of charge, are not assessed or graded and do not provide students with credit toward the completion of their university degrees. The next stage in the global development of online higher education is for online courses to be accredited and incorporated within the existing programs offered by universities.
Online challenges must be faced The increased choice, flexibility and lower cost will be beneficial to Australian students and our economic productivity, but it will be immensely challenging to existing Australian institutions. Our biggest danger is to simply ignore the overseas trends which, according to some forecasts, could have negative ramifications for current university models.
As well as producing the skilled graduates needed to drive productivity and long-term growth, Australia’s universities also educate hundreds of thousands of international students and in doing so generate $15 billion in export income each year (our leading services export industry).
There is potential to expand this greatly through online offerings. Over the next forty years, the demand for education from our region will be enormous. The OECD predicts the middle class in the Asia Pacific to grow six-fold in the next 20 years to 3.2 billion people. In India alone, the working age population will grow by 240 million over the next 20 years. There is insufficient capacity in their education system to cope, as McKinsey & Company have identified.
India’s online education market will be worth $40 billion by 2017, presenting huge opportunities for Australian institutions.
The opportunities from the online education trend are enormous, but so are the challenges.
Better approaches for Australia Labor has not capitalised on the opportunities that the online trend presents.
Labor has rigidly held onto the traditional learning model founded in “bricks and mortar” teaching and has neglected addressing the challenges facing higher education. Labor’s base-funding review of higher education ignored online opportunities and the potential for more effective and efficient learning methods.
For the past five years, the Government has focused on funding formulae, visas and regulations while Australia has declined in education export revenues. This has been particularly noticeable over the last two years despite other competitor countries continuing to grow their share.
This highlights the need to consider better approaches to ensure Australia is not be left behind.
Traditional higher education environments are important, but the challenges and opportunities of the future must also be considered.
Objectives and scope of the Working Group As part of the Coalition’s commitment to implementing innovative, forward-looking higher education initiatives that will drive increased productivity and economic growth, the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MHR, has established the Coalition’s Online Higher Education Working Group to examine the potential for greater online delivery to be incorporated within Australia’s existing higher education framework.
The Working Group will be chaired by Mr Alan Tudge MP and its other members will be Senator Fiona Nash, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education, Karen Andrews MP, Senator Stephen Parry, Ms Nola Marino MP and Mr Rowan Ramsey MP.
The Working Group will liaise closely with Shadow Minister for Universities and Research, Senator the Hon Brett Mason and Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP.
The Working Group will examine the key issues and challenges related to the development of online higher education in Australia. The Working Group will consult widely with all relevant stakeholders, including tertiary providers, employer groups and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, to inform its response to these issues and challenges.
Specifically, the Working Group will:
1. Assess the trends in online learning both in Australia and internationally and how this might unfold over the next decade.
2. Assess the benefits of online learning for Australian students and the Australian economy, including the potential:
a. Impact on cost, flexibility, customisation and quality.
b. Benefits of enhanced choice, including from global players.
c. Impact on workforce participation and democratisation of learning.
3. Assess the challenges of online learning and how they could be overcome, including:
a. The challenges to existing institutions and their preparedness to face them.
b. The maintenance of quality and standards.
c. The technological and infrastructure requirements of online courses.
4. Assess what policy measures are required to capture the benefits for Australian students and the economy, including:
a. How do deal with accreditation
b. How to best assist Australian providers.
c. How to capture the opportunities that international institutions provide while fostering Australian ones.
d. What other regulatory changes are required to capture the benefits of the emerging environment.
5. Determine how Australia’s tertiary institutions can best capture the growing online international market, particularly in Asia. This would include:
a. Assessing the size of the opportunity.
b. Determining how Australia can grow an online international market without compromising our on-shore market.
c. Determining what measures should be put in place to help capture the opportunities.
d. Identifying regulatory barriers that need to be addressed.
The Working Group will provide a report on these matters to the Leader of the Opposition by 15 June, 2013.
Contributing to the Working Group Written submissions to the Working Group are invited by 30 March, 2013 and should be addressed to:
The Office of Mr Alan Tudge MP
Suite 4, Level 1, 420 Burwood Highway Wantirna South, VIC 3152
Or sent electronically ...
To arrange a private meeting with the Working Group or to obtain further information about the Working Group, please contact ... the office of Mr Alan Tudge MP ...

From: THE COALITION’S ONLINE HIGHER EDUCATION WORKING GROU: Terms of Reference, Alan Tudge, 28 February 2013

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