A sim­ple way to help unis

Our key part­ner is evolv­ing, and so must we to be com­pet­i­tive

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - Philom­ena Le­ung is as­so­ciate dean of in­ter­na­tional and cor­po­rate en­gage­ment at the fac­ulty of busi­ness and eco­nom­ics at Mac­quarie Univer­sity. PHILOM­ENA LE­UNG

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’

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