Future of Australian unis: bite-sized degrees, online-only students

“We’re talking three units of credit, which is the equivalent of 75 hours of effort, which includes all the learning, assessments and reading,” Professor Crisp said.

“Participants can stack those to get a master’s degree … and the things they do in [those courses] are designed around them immediately incorporating them into whatever their workplace activities are.”

While similar short courses may become available for undergraduate students beyond 2025, for now UNSW is reconfiguring bachelor’s degrees by creating a “blended experience”, with more content available online and a greater focus on student and teacher interaction on campus, Professor Jacobs said.

“We’re changing the way we do face-to-face learning so we will, like many other universities, be having [fewer] big lecture rooms full of students, a lot of that will be delivered online,” Professor Jacobs said.

“We’ll be adapting our campus to allow much more interaction.”

Professor Jacobs said changes at the university were also aimed at improving student satisfaction, an area where UNSW is well behind the national average, according to the latest Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching data.

“We are not satisfied with being in the place we are in the league tables of QILT, we are not doing well enough and we are addressing every single aspect of that student experience,” Professor Jacobs said.

He said he expected far greater numbers of students from all over the world studying online-only courses in the future.

The University of NSW has already started to move in this direction with its PLuS Alliance partnership with Arizona State University and King’s College London, which this year launched an online degree in international public health.

“I do see this as a really important direction of travel because the demand for higher education globally is growing exponentially … [the estimates] are that by the end of this century, it will exceed 50 per cent of the world’s population,” Professor Jacobs said.

“The quality of our education by any international standards is very high and if we’re going to build on Australia’s wonderful track record for [providing] higher education, we’re going to need to use technology to do it.

“And I’m convinced that it is possible to deliver high quality online education in an interactive way with really clever assessment and feedback that keeps students engaged.”

Education reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald

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