Report vindicates UNE strategy

Published 25 October 2012

UNE is better positioned than many other Australian universities to tackle the competitive international online onslaught predicted in the Ernst and Young Report (EYR) released this week.

The University’s Chancellor, Richard Torbay, said the Report was a complete vindication of the UNE Strategy launched nearly two years ago.

The EYR on the future of higher education predicted that only a handful of very elite Australian universities would still exist in 15 years as international competition absorbed Australian students into online courses provided by some of the world’s very finest universities.

“We knew then that the University had to prepare itself for unprecedented levels of competition, particularly in our main market – distance education – and that’s precisely what we’ve been doing,” Mr Torbay said.

Since launching its Strategic Plan, UNE had focused on growing its market share, reinvigorating its online courses and restructuring its academic calendar in response to student demand, he said. As a result, it had emerged as one of the most successful universities in the country, growing its student numbers by almost 20 per cent over the past two years and employing an additional 25 equivalent full-time staff with a further 45 to come on board next year.

“Not everyone wants to hear just how important the Internet now is to the future of Australian universities, but Ernst and Young have warned us, correctly in my view, that we must adapt or die,” said UNE’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jim Barber.

In the past few months there had been an explosion of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) emanating from the United States, such as the MOOC in artificial intelligence offered by Stanford University that enrolled 160,000 students free of charge in a single course, he explained.

Professor Barber, recognised as a national leader in online learning, said cyberspace knew no geographic boundaries. “Anyone with an Internet connection can enrol in a MOOC,” he pointed out.  “It is a quirky fact that there were more students in the Stanford MOOC from Lithuania, for example, than there were on the entire Stanford campus.”

The next frontier for UNE was to meet cut-throat competition online from universities like Harvard, Princeton and MIT. “They are employing revolutionary business models such as giving away their academic content for free and charging students only to sit the exam or to pay for tuition and other services as they need them,” he said. “We can’t just sit back and hope these developments will pass us by. The big retail stores and newspapers tried that and they are now in freefall.

“The UNE Council has been actively considering its options for competing with MOOCs and other online developments for some time. There’s a juggernaut on its way and we are determined not to be one of the universities that Ernst and Young earmarks for extinction.”