For reimagining Australian tertiary education, many heads beat two

AI is helping us mine 200,000 stakeholders’ ideas, sensible and silly, about core elements of the new Adelaide University, say Peter Høj and David Lloyd

November 26, 2023
Lots of people
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After more than two decades of debate about the prospect of merging two of South Australia’s premier public universities, strategic alignment (and conducive timing) have brought us to a place where a bold vision is set to become a reality.

Since our last article, a significant step was taken. Following a three-month inquiry in the South Australian parliament, we welcomed the passage of legislation to enable the establishment of a new Adelaide University, signalling clear and strong support across the political spectrum for our ambitious future. 

As we move beyond our comprehensive feasibility assessment and early transition planning, we are engaging in unique ways with our broader staffing communities, students, alumni and industry partners to design and test what is truly possible through meaningful co-creation.

We are driven by the deliverables in our White Paper and Business Case to open our doors come 1 January 2026 (pending all necessary regulatory approvals, of course), but we don’t want to just take a “build it and they will come approach”. We don’t have all the answers and we know that it will take a coalition of highly capable and talented people to get this done. Indeed, the concept of a combined Adelaide University was endorsed by our councils with an agreed prerequisite that our communities will have opportunities to help design core elements of the future institution.

So how do we harvest the ideas and insights of more than 200,000 staff, students, alumni and other stakeholders and synthesise them into tangible outcomes in a tight timeframe? Booking out a football stadium for a few days might be one way, but we adopted another. We employed technology enabled by artificial intelligence to drive engagement in a novel way – and so the CreateAU online platform was launched with the assistance of Planview (a global software enterprise).   

Through this interactive collaboration tool, we can draw on the wisdom of the crowd to source and amplify ideas, giving people agency and voice regarding the fabric of the new institution. Inspired by the famous remark of the Danish Nobel prizewinning physicist Niels Bohr that “your theory is crazy, but it’s not crazy enough to be true”, we are encouraging big thinking, preposterous thinking even, to see what we can surface that we maybe did not expect.

To start our co-creation efforts at scale, we invited multiple members of our community to contribute to the development of a statement of strategic intent, which will represent the first definition of the proposed Adelaide University and guide its first steps through the stewardship of a new Transition Council. Through this crowdsourcing exercise (conducted online over several weeks, with threaded conversation and the ability to vote and comment on ideas) we are exploring issues such as culture and core values; ambition and achievement through education; innovation through research; graduate qualities; academic structure; brand and visual identity; and next-generation initiatives and projects.

By adopting an entrepreneurial mindset that builds ecosystems of innovation, we have sought to challenge traditional ways of engagement within the sector, and early signs are promising. We were able to generate ideas and drive connections across our university communities that might not otherwise have been possible. Those ideas constitute a rich resource for future iteration and refinement.

The ancient saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts still holds relevance today. There might be differences within our existing institutions, but a key commonality is the belief in the power of education to stabilise and advance society. By coming together, we can leverage the collective intelligence of both of our communities and build something truly transformational for the whole of South Australia and beyond.

Peter Høj is vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide. David Lloyd is vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia. 

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