Friday, September 28, 2012

Universities Must Adapt Education Models: Conroy

Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband...
Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy for Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Charise Palmer, Editor, The Conversation, interviewing Professor Jim Barber, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer at University of New England, The Conversation:

Australian universities need to adapt their education models or face becoming irrelevant says Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Speaking at a forum being held at the University of Melbourne on high-speed broadband and higher education, Senator Conroy said universities could choose to adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented by ubiquitous high-speed broadband.

“This is a sector that has a choice, you can be a dinosaur, you can keep bellowing like some of our retailers, but there are new business models coming to challenge enormously in this sector." However, University of New England vice-chancellor Jim Barber said there were specific government-induced problems at play in higher education.

Professor Barber said Australia is at risk of surrendering its education market to international online providers as a result of government regulation. “Our regulatory environment is obstructing innovation in online delivery and therefore jeopardising the nation’s competitiveness,” Professor Barber said.

He cited numerous quality assurance standards universities were expected to comply with, forming what he called a quality framework “derived from dubious assumptions about how teaching should be performed”.

Professor Barber’s comments come as more universities around the world move to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs). University of Melbourne last week became the first Australian university to offer its courses with MOOC provider Coursera.

Professor Barber questioned the role of the many input standards that go to creating Australia’s education quality framework. “Even if there is evidence for their association with student outcomes, who’s to say they are superior to the methods that are emerging in the new world of MOOCs, social networks and augmented reality?”

Professor Barber has called for a Bradley-type inquiry leading to federal government policy on the role of broadband in education. Senator Conroy said the higher education sector needed to consider how its delivery model must change. He agreed that ubiquitous high-speed broadband meant students, including children, could choose to learn anywhere they wanted.

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