The Higher Education Online Revolution in Australia – Grattan Report

Information Economy StrategyThe Higher Education Online Revolution in Australia is not new, but in 2012 it caught popular attention. Hundreds of media stories about ‘MOOCs’ – massive open online courses – drove a surge in enrolments. By March this year more than three million people around the world had enrolled in Coursera, the largest MOOC provider. High-profile universities, including the University of Melbourne, rushed to make their course materials available via MOOCs. Time magazine published a cover story on online technology ‘reinventing college’, asking if it could make higher education better and cheaper.

Despite the hype around purely online education, the big question is not whether online courses will replace classrooms, but whether technology will drive the re-design of teaching and learning. Will traditional lectures be replaced with ‘flipped classrooms’, in which students view video lectures before coming to class to work on specific problems with the lecturer or tutor? Will computer game technology become a common educational tool? Will new data mining techniques be widely used to show what students don’t understand and tailor personalised learning pathways for them?

Nobody knows what will happen over the long term as technology and tradition mix in higher education. This report takes stock of what we know now, and what it suggests about how higher education in Australia will evolve over the medium-term future.

Technology will affect student choices between education providers. Students will expect good technology at university, as they do when shopping, socialising and being entertained. On-campus universities will compete against each other and online universities by blending technology and classroom teaching.

In the foreseeable future, young people especially will still want to meet and mix with each other as part of their higher education. Strong university brands will still be a signal of value to employers and others. These factors will favour existing on-campus universities. But universities may increase their purchase of course content and education technologies from other organisations.

How should government respond to new online education technologies and business models? It should not pick winners, but it should do more to open the door to new education providers.

Purely online institutions should not have to provide student welfare services, but should be allowed to accept all students through open access admissions policies. These changes would help keep costs down, providing scope for lower fees.

Tuition subsidies should be extended beyond public universities, so that government is neutral between education providers.

Barriers to foreign colleges and universities setting up in Australia should be lowered. Accreditation recognition agreements between Australia and other countries with high education standards would remove an obstacle to trade in education. Such agreements would give Australian universities more opportunities overseas, and Australian students more higher education choice at home.

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