Conferences & Events

Universities Australia Higher Education Conference 2013 Report

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The main themes explored during this conference, held in Canberra at the end of February, were around funding, for research and developing R & E partnerships in Asia; the rise of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), online and blended learning models; and the changing role of academics as a result of these trends.

Highlights included the keynotes by the Hon. Chris Bowen MP, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, and the Hon. Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, Liberal Party of Australia.

Interesting perspectives were also presented by Dr Diana Oblinger, CEO EDUCAUSE and Dr Ellen Junn, San Jose State University at the plenary session, Higher education and the digital economy – where to from here?

In his opening keynote address, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, the Hon. Chris Bowen MP spoke about:

  • Labour’s demand-driven system expanding access, with student numbers up 200,000 since 2007.
  • He said the Government was committed to sustaining the Education Investment Fund and noted the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance (NCIRS) and Super Science, among priority research initiatives needing support.
  • He emphasised the importance of quality over quantity for Australian institutions competing for students in the global marketplace and is seeking reforms to improve quality assurance alongside streamlined visa processing, citing the tuition protection service and the 10 point student safety guide initiatives by Universities Australia as good exemplars.
  • Australia is well positioned to grow its offshore student numbers in an increasingly competitive global education market.

In his keynote address, the Hon. Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, spoke about:

  • the Coalition priorities of government debt reduction and spending control underpinning a period of relative stability for the Higher Education sector.
  • Expect the demand driven uncapped student system to continue, he said, and a focus on creating awareness of the value of the higher education sector.
  • Key policy goals for the Coalition lean towards a stable consultative government, protecting academic standards and supporting the Higher Education export market with a two-way approach to onshore/offshore students under a Colombo Plan.
  • Mr Abbot said that the Coalition would encourage world class well targeted research, ease regulatory requirements and advocate taking advantage of online learning and MOOCs to support existing campus teaching and accessibility.

At the plenary session Higher education and the digital economy – where to from here? , Dr Diana Oblinger, CEO EDUCAUSE, presented (via video) an optimistic view of where the best of breed IT solutions for education are heading:

  • In the digital age, connections are more important than information, pathways replace gate keeping, she said.
  • IT is a delivery system, an experience and enabler of new immersive and collaborative modes of teaching and learning, where we learn to do whatever it is we do by practicing using a virtual simulation environment, and where feedback to lecturers is helping monitor students’ progression against learning objectives.
  • She spoke of the emergence of prediction modelling and personal message support helping students organise themselves in a disciplined way to stay on track, among the technologies enabling higher course completion rates.
  • With those developments come changes in faculty roles, away from the traditional lecturer/researcher and towards coach/mentor and the need for new IT support models enabling students to self-regulate along the correct path to graduation.
  • In the future we can expect more new models for course delivery, such as credentialed MOOCs, video on demand, competency based programs, based on mastery, among others.
  • The way forward: imagine education in different ways with the best of technology and how it can change pedagogy to better serve different models.

Dr Ellen Junn from San Jose State University (SJSU) then spoke about threats to tradition coming from MOOCS:

  • At SJSU, Edx’s material and flip classroom reduced failure rates from 41% to 9%.
  • However she cautioned that all MOOCs are not created equal, and that it is important to investigate the online features, the level of lecturer training and support provided.

Further reading: (Interesting use of the free web based app for Interactive technology – allows attendee to text responses as codes in real time) (reinventing public education) – and follow on article at

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