The changing face of higher education

The changing face of higher education

With increased competition from online and international universities, Australia’s tertiary education system may be in need of change.

The tertiary education system is set to change like never before               Image: CC Liverpool Hope University/Flickr

With increased competition from online and international universities, Australia’s tertiary education system may be in need of change. ABS data shows higher education is currently Australia’s third largest export behind coal and iron ore, but some experts feel that the education system needs to be redeveloped if it is to remain a prominent part of Australia’s changing economy.

Associate professor David Rooney from The University of Queensland is concerned that “…we are not securing our future with long term investment in what matters in the future. Queensland and Australia cannot gamble on being able to rely indefinitely on our ability to make money out of digging holes in the ground”.

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Graduates Stand Out in Recession

New research from Georgetown University has revealed that university graduates fare far better during recession compared to those without degrees. During the recession period of 2007-2010, university graduates in America gained 187,000 jobs, while people with only a high-school diploma lost almost 6 million jobs.

“It is a tough market for college graduates but far worse for those without a college education” said Anthony P. Carnevale, co-author of the report. Mr. Carnevale said that during a recession, the costs of obtaining a college degree were far lower than the costs of not having a degree.

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VIDEO: The college advantage

Think tank report suggests fee increase

In Australia, government subsidies cover much of the costs of obtaining a degree, however a new report released by policy think tank the Grattan Institute says that students should be footing more of the bill for their education. The report says that by the middle of this decade education subsidies will have cost taxpayers $7 billion, but the direct public benefits of education are unclear.

Andrew Norton, author of the Graduate Winners report, said that taxpayers should only subsidize courses that create public benefits which would otherwise not be created. Science and Mathematics degrees would increase in cost by $2000-5000, under a new funding system proposed by the report. However, many students feel that increasing cost of university courses would be a backwards step in a country where education is becoming more important.

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Science students could face trouble

Are these proposed increases justified, however? The primary criteria used by the report for assessing whether the current fees for each education field is sufficient is the potential public benefit provided by graduates. The report suggests that degrees with primarily high public benefit, such as nursing, should be subsidised more, whereas degrees with high private benefit, such as law or science, should be subsidised less.

The report presents the post-graduate world of science graduates as one with strong job prospects and well-paying jobs, but this may not be the case. A report released by Graduate Careers Australia, entitled ‘Beyond Graduation 2011’, showed that in 2011, only 57% of students with bachelor’s degrees in the natural and physical sciences were in full-time employment. This was the second-lowest employment rate of all tertiary fields, behind the creative arts.

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University 2.0

The University of Reddit

University of Reddit

With these proposed increases in fees for certain tertiary education degrees and less than ideal job prospects in some fields, students may be looking towards alternative forms of education. With the continual growth and ease of use of technology in today’s society, online education is becoming an ever-more popular form of education for potential students.

The University of Reddit (UReddit) presents one of the more unique approaches to online education, where the content is created by and voted on by the web site’s user base. This model of content aggregation is modeled on the extremely popular website that fostered the initial idea,, and has grown significantly in the past few months thanks to a blog post on the front page of, which receives millions of page views per day.

UReddit contains courses ranging from Fine Art Theory 101 to Beginning to Knit: The Basics, and is completely open source, meaning that anyone can take a look at the coding behind the website and suggest improvements.

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Australian universities must adapt

Since 2009, international student numbers have been decreasing and are expected to bottom out by the end of 2013, according to modelling by the International Education Association of Australia.

There are several reasons why international student numbers have been decreasing, however according to Sean Gallagher of the United States Studies Centre and Geoffrey Garrett of The University of Sydney Business School, the lowered enrollments are due to increased competition from foreign institutions for highly valued student income.

Due to Australia’s proximity to Asia, Australian universities are well placed to compete in the growing market for international students. However in order to truly compete Australia must invest in the development of its institutions, so it may maintain relevance in a changing global market which it used to dominate.

RELATED STORY: Australian universities challenged to grow with Asia