Australian students tipped to look beyond home states post-Covid

Online lectures may enable applicants to broaden their horizons, predicts consultant

六月 29, 2020
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The Covid-19 pandemic could overturn Australia’s “highly parochial” university culture, nudging students to look further afield and fostering differentiation among the country’s notoriously lookalike universities, it has been claimed.

Consultant Catherine Friday said that the rapid online pivot by shuttered Australian campuses could “completely change” the domestic landscape, as students and institutions embraced blended digital delivery.

Ms Friday, a managing partner with consultants EY, said the pandemic had shown that digital techniques facilitated not only remote delivery but also the “incredibly powerful” combination of “synchronous and asynchronous learning”.

“The mass lecturer experiences, that undergraduates loathe and tend to get very little out of, can be replicated online,” she said. “It is the opportunities to interrogate academics, test ideas and engage in Socratic learning that benefits from smaller and preferably face-to-face situations. [But] even that can be substituted with well-designed digital content.

“Institutions are looking at how they can change their teaching, course planning and structure, recognising that having lectures online and providing bespoke digital teaching experiences could become a real differentiator.”

She said that this would give universities an edge in recruiting from interstate as well as overseas, ushering “massive” cultural change. “[In Australia] we generally go to university in the state where we finished high school, probably pretty close to where we live.

“If you talk to most year 12 students about what university they might be thinking of, they’ll probably rattle off the names of the universities in their own state. But Victorian students are astonished to discover there’s more than one university in Queensland or Western Australia.”

Ms Friday said that changing that mindset had long been deemed impossible. “In February I would have said it would be nice, but I can’t see it happening in my lifetime. In the past couple of months we have started to see the art of the possible.”

The latest education department statistics suggest that students have been slow to embrace interstate study. About 16 per cent were enrolled with universities outside their home states in 2018, up from 12 per cent in 2012.

But the transformation has been more rapid in the smaller states. More than 21 per cent of students at South Australia’s institutions came from elsewhere in 2018, up from 11 per cent in 2012, while in Tasmania the proportion rose from 22 to 49 per cent.

The share of interstate students in the Australian Capital Territory rose from 38 to 44 per cent, while some 56 per cent of Northern Territory students are from elsewhere – reflecting Charles Darwin University’s longstanding online presence.

Ms Friday said that she expected the trend to accelerate under the pandemic, as universities issued early offers rather than await the results of disrupted senior school exams. The Australian National University had been a “first mover” in awarding university places on attributes other than school results.

This year Curtin, Macquarie, Murdoch, Western Australia and Western Sydney universities have all vowed to consider applications on the strength of 2019 school exam results.

Ms Friday said institutions that took this approach would be able to accentuate their areas of strength and lure students with a passion for those disciplines from around the whole country.

She said “broad-based marketing” along these lines could evolve into “quite targeted” recruitment. “A university that specialises in engineering [could] pinpoint its interactions with schools and students that are themselves known for excellence in engineering.”



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