Innovation in higher education

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I have been attending my last deans conference. As usual, the two things that amaze me are:

  1. How many innovative, different models exist for business schools and universities around the world; and
  2. How similar Australian universities are and how they appear to be constrained by government policy that prevents differentiation and innovation.

For example, I heard about the small private university in Turkey that takes top students from around the country and trains them to be the next generation of leaders for their country. The fees are high – but 40% of students get full scholarships including living stipends to ensure that if you are academically good enough then you will be able to afford the best quality education. Is it elitist? Of course. But it is also equitable. The requirement for entry is talent, not wealth. It is also the antithesis of Australia’s one-size-fits-all approach to tertiary education.

That is just one example. I heard about teaching-focused schools that highlight teaching excellence rather than research. I also heard about exceptional research institutions. I heard about business schools that require all faculty to have spent time (in years) practicing their trade in industry. I heard about institutions with explicit dual track approaches recognising exceptional researchers and exceptional teachers for their equally important contributions.

It was all rather eye-opening.

Unfortunately, unlike universities in many countries, Australian higher education has become a homogenised product where diversity appears to be actively discouraged by government policies. This is bad for the universities, the academics and the students.

2 Responses to "Innovation in higher education"
  1. Interestingly, heard a talk by Prof. Chapman the other day about income-contingent loans, and how they’ve increased higher education attainment among low-income earners (but haven’t changed the percentage of students from high-income families pursuing tertiary education). surely this is an equitable outcome within the australian higher education sector? of course, it would be interesting to see statistics relating to what percentage of students with scholarships finish their degrees, and what percentage of students in tertiary systems with a greater proportion of scholarships finish their degrees (for example, in Turkey). currently, approx 30% apparently don’t finish in australia, meaning that those who do (and otehr taxpayers) may in essence be cross-subsidising those who don’t.

  2. The homogentity of Australian unis is less to do with government policies, and more to do with their own decisions.

    There is nothing stopping any uni from marketing their teaching ability rather than their research. But they almost all prefer to be measured by that yardstick.

    When the Victorian CAEs became parts of unis in the early 90’s, Swinburne decided it wasn’t going to have “non-technical” courses. So it didn’t.

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