Uni chief’s radical plan for six-month courses
A RADICAL plan for much shorter, “tailored” degrees that could take as little as six months to complete is being drawn up by the University of Adelaide.
Vice-Chancellor Peter Rathjen said shorter degrees would boost the South Australian economy and allow workers to upskill without having to interrupt their jobs. He said the degrees would appeal to older adults who were “not willing to give up three years to sit around and be an undergraduate”.
The proportion of South Australians with degrees – now 30 per cent – needed to rise to at least 50 per cent to ensure the economy could evolve and thrive, Mr Rathjen said.
He said the university needed to innovate with new paths, including more online and shorter degrees that ranged from six months to two years and did not “require people to stop work and come to university full time for three years as a teenager”.
In a wide-ranging interview with SAWeekend today, Mr Rathjen also said he had not given up on a merger with the University of South Australia despite the collapse of talks.
He said the Federal Government’s “failure” to properly fund research meant Australian universities needed to be big to compete internationally, and flagged increasing the size of the university from 28,000 students to more than 40,000 over the next decade – half of whom would be foreign, compared to less than a third now.
Arguing the university was central to creating innovative new industries and skills vital to the state’s economic future, Mr Rathjen said online learning programs and shorter degrees were essential to add to the existing traditional degrees.
“The conversation is very live at the university at the moment and we’re even talking to TAFE about whether there might be a partnership there,” he told SAWeekend. “I’m not just talking about two-year degrees. I think we’re going to have to go to much shorter degrees.”
He said the area of artificial intelligence and machine learning, which would disrupt almost everyone’s job in the next 10 to 20 years, was an opportunity to employ shorter degree courses. Winemaking was another example, he said, where shorter courses had already led to new businesses.
“We need one-week courses, six-month courses, things like that (so) that people can come into the university and
maintain the skills they need,” Mr Rathjen said. When he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, it introduced “associate” degrees, which were more skills-based and lasted two years – but his new plans seem to be more wide-ranging.
However, he insisted the university wasn’t planning to move into the TAFE space.
“You are drawing on a wonderful intellectual tradition which is quite different to being competency-based, where you teach someone to do something and tick it off,” he said.
“We’re still teaching thought, creativity, how you accumulate knowledge and apply it to problems, in the way universities always have.
“We’re just doing it in tailored packages rather than the broader, three-year degree.
“Those tailored packages will often be attractive to people who might be a little bit older and not willing to give up three years to sit around and be an undergraduate.”
The plans are among a range Mr Rathjen outlined as he argued a world-class university was vital to driving a more successful SA.
“From the state’s point of view, it seems to be we’ve got two options,” he said. “We either help people to get into education or we accept that we’re going to have to pay welfare. Because that’s the way the workforce is turning out. And whatever semi-skilled jobs have been lost, more are going to be lost as we go forward.”
Mr Rathjen said education and innovation were the keys to the state’s future and more South Australians needed to have tertiary degrees. Currently,
according to the latest census figures, just 30 per cent of adults have degrees, compared with Victoria and NSW with more than 40 per cent.
Yet he warned the Federal Government’s new university funding model could block SA from increasing that proportion since it locked the numbers of SA students going through university to 2017 levels.
INNOVATION: Peter Rathjen.