Uni chief’s rad­i­cal plan for six-month cour­ses

The Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - ROY EC­CLE­STON

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.

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