Currently in Australia the non-university providers are providing learning opportunities predominantly for full fee-paying international students, but this may change in the future because of government policy. Issues like free trade agreements are likely to impact on Australian higher education providers as there has been pressure in the past for the Federal government to introduce a voucher system for Australian students that would allow them to buy education products from any accredited provider. This would allow foreign companies to operate in Australia on a level playing field with Australian universities. The US is a big player in this field.
So how could Australian universities halt the slide in international market share, mitigate the possible impact of a voucher system and infact grow market share?
Personal Learning Environments where learners can interact with a range of learning materials, some offered by the university and some sourced externally through open content, in ways that allows participants to follow issues and concepts that take them where they want/need to go.
For its part the university offers expert facilitators with current professional knowledge and experience along with an assessment regime that is accredited to a level that is acceptable to industry, community and government.
While learners can follow their own interests and learning pathway, they would still need to undertake learning activities that lead to certification if that was one of their goals.
But will certification be the main game in 2020? Is it even now? Some would argue that gaining the employment you seek has more to do with what you can do, design and produce than certification. Portfolios, particularly e.portfolios are now an extremely important part of gaining paid employment and the future trend is more towards these kinds of approaches.
For Australian universities this will pose some significant challenges. The institutions will need to be highly connected to industry requirements with its key academic staff actively working in and with a wide range of organisations. Academic staff would need to be highly flexible in terms of the support they provide the students and be prepared to hand them over to a colleague more knowledgeable/skilled in the area the students wish to pursue.
Access to learning materials, assessment and academic staff would need to be predominantly online with exceptions only where the online option would not work.
Students would have opportunities to work alongside university staff on industry research projects.
The physical "bricks and mortar" facilities will most likely look very different to what currently exists. Increased emphasis in dedicated research facilities, few offices, general support staff working closely with academics to ensure they have what they need when they need it. Physical learning spaces targeted specifically for learning and assessment that can't be done online effectively. Virtually no lecture theaters, or general purpose classrooms. Libraries that only contain what is not available online and staffed by a mixture of academic, library and IT staff.