A simple way to help unis
Our key partner is evolving, and so must we to be competitive
The Productivity Commission’s Shifting the Dial report contains realistic assessments of the problems faced by Australia’s education sector, from preschool to higher education.
It acknowledges the need for changing core competencies, assessment of proficiency, supporting stronger education outcomes and recognising a certain amount of teaching innovation as a factor for improving accessibility of learning.
It also has identified significant issues in the university sector with respect to aligning teaching incentives and the cross-subsidies between teaching and research, and it provides grounds for greater investment in skills development.
What the report fails to do is address any detail on investment in higher education: where this may come from and how the Australian government intends to provide support for improving education outcomes and increasing innovation. There is no mention in the recommendations of how to address the nexus between research and teaching, with the key impact on Australia’s productivity compared with other countries.
Importantly, it doesn’t address how Australia’s higher education sector serves our key export in international education. What is Australia’s vision to work with our key partner in international students, China? And how does Australia plan to keep up with the lightning-speed developments in China’s education sector?
I have witnessed many countries’ fast-growing level of proficiency and investment in innovation, integrating business needs, education outcomes, and engagement between industry and academe. Countries such as China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and some in Latin America are all investing signifi- cantly in education, broadening academics’ engagement with industries and innovative activities.
Australia’s poor rating for innovation dropped to 23rd over 25 top countries in the global innovation index of 2017, just above the Czech Republic and Estonia, and behind China. This is the outcome of the lack of attention for a wholesale reform in education, research and development and business engagement, especially the engagement of small to medium-size enterprises.
Universities are the key to drive innovation, through research and scholarship, and also through a balanced framework to improve education outcomes. The report touches on some of the problems we face, but certainly no mention of wholesale reform to solve these problems. Yet it is wholesale reform that Australia needs.
In the meantime China is changing quickly. In July last year the Chinese Ministry of Education announced its campaign to promote education while advancing the Belt and Road Initiative, a development strategy proposed by President Xi Jinping that focuses on connectivity and co-operation with Eurasian countries. There is also the drive to develop educational programs with foreign partners in science, technology, engineering and maths, adding medicine and other interdisciplinary frontier sciences.
Mainland Chinese classrooms also are introducing “makerfriendly classes”, encouraging students to be creative thinkers in a new route of pedagogy. No longer will Chinese students be subject to rote learning, with the path opening up for peer-to-peer learning, online, with methodology such as gamification and virtual reality.
The development of “maker” skills of students will have a huge role in moving China from being a primarily manufacturing-based economy into one that adds value through creativity and innovation. About 72.3 million mainland students (a 20 per cent increase) registered for online courses in 2015, with a market value at 119 billion yuan ($23bn).
It’s clear that global education underpins economic, social and business development.
The Productivity Commission report has set out most of the issues Australia faces in our education sector, but there are few if any solutions and certainly no visionary statements on policy, research and innovation, or the essential collaboration between government, industry and academe. This is what Australia’s higher education sector needs if we hope to stay competitive and relevant to China.
Mainland Chinese classrooms are introducing ‘makerfriendly classes’