Let’s set the scene

We hear a lot these days about how roles and work are rapidly changing. We see social media, business and technology changing with speed. As a result, universities and private learning providers are rethinking the learning and teaching response to these changes.

Recent projections predict that as the Australian workforce grows to 2040, workers will need to double the time they spend on learning to ensure they to keep up with changing skills requirements. This means that there will be at least a 30% increase, to maybe 60 billion hours, in learning required for “learning-workers” to build these new skills.

It’s expected that there will be a greater market need for (a) more ‘on the job’ learning, (b) increased new formal training and (c) increased tertiary provision.

When you look at how this increased learning needs to happen, the words ‘flexible’ and ‘online’ appear frequently. For example, last year Deloitte surveyed 4000 Australians aged 18 and over who are currently (or have been recently) in the workforce. Half of those surveyed had either recently completed study, were currently studying, or were intending to commence study in the next 3 years. Of that latter 2000 respondents – the ‘learning-workers’ interested in tertiary provision – very few wanted purely ‘in-person’ or purely ‘online-mode’ study (around 3% combined). The majority of this sample of study-interested workers wanted flexible and ‘bite size’ learning with ‘relatively more online delivery than in-person delivery’.
For some universities, that has meant a rush to online provision, taking conventional lecture courses and moving the content into online/recorded lecture-based courses. But what does that mean for a university with strengths in high-quality, innovative developments in ‘in-person delivery’, like UTS?

 

Refocus with research

At UTS we’ve been working on the postgraduate learning experience for learners in work for a few years now. Faced with declining enrolments over the last 8-10 years and increased competition across the sector, our first priority was to listen to our students.
We’ve been working with our students and market research partners to identify a range of key personas that define different postgraduate learning needs. Instead of doing everything for everyone, this clustering approach allows us to tailor new postgraduate offerings to these distinct groups.
Next, we turned to research for specific new offerings, commissioning more than 12 deep dive research projects last year to ensure we match our plans to the potential new student needs. Indeed, in one of these research studies we asked the same Deloitte team who had explored the needs of the ‘learning-workers’ (cited above), to look at the opportunities for us in the online market.
The resulting recommendations will help us to be even more distinctive, with new ideas for courses in such areas as technology and health, business, and law, and the transdisciplinary intersection of those areas.

Heading to hybrid

In parallel with the ‘what’ we’ve been building capacity for the ‘how’.
Over the past two years, our Postgraduate.futures (PG.f) team have been working with faculties to create new Master, Diploma and Certificate degrees offering strong ‘digital’ support. Thanks to our existing learning.futures strategy, our in-person teaching is already ‘blended’ – where students come to class and use digital learning mixed cleverly into each subject.
However, these new learning-workers want a real ‘hybrid’ of flexibility and choice – for hybrid learning, the student chooses. So, among other things, the PG.f team have been working to provide select subjects with online alternatives to class activities.
A unique demonstration of our innovation in the online space has been our ‘bite-sized’ offerings in the launch of UTS Open last year. It saw over 4,000 unique ‘taster’ enrolments in the first 6 months. This year we move past the taster! In the upcoming relaunch of UTS Open, we’ll begin to showcase our new ‘hybrid’ potential future. The new UTS Open will offer a new range of online, short, micro-credential and stacked learning options giving prospective students a real, and high-quality learning choice.

 

So, will universities meet the challenge and turn PG around?

Truthfully, it’s a tough market to compete in. There are significantly more changes coming and unfortunately the university sector traditionally has not been fast moving. It is going to be a huge challenge for those universities who do not adapt swiftly, and who remain glued to an idea of a past that does not suit the shifting future.
But I believe that as the sector becomes increasingly competitive, the need to survive (and thrive!) will drive us to shake any lumbering mindset and swiftly adapt our offerings to meet market and industry needs.
For UTS, I am confident that we are working in the right direction. We’ve been working on this future for a while.
Over the past years, faculties and professional staff have been doing great work, diversifying their offerings to better suit our current and future students.
With UTS 2027’s mandate to create a personalised learning experience, driven by data and student feedback, and projects such as LX Transformation, Embedding English Language development, and leveraging data to provide academic and employability feedback in the works, we’re on our way to turning PG around.
And, there’s only more to come.

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