Making teaching and learning sustainable for higher education: Could partnership models be the way forward?

 We’ve observed a global phenomenon during the pandemic where it became mainstream for teaching, learning, and student support services to be offered via on-line delivery. At the start of 2022, we transitioned back to campus in search of a new-normal. Now it’s time for a mid-year check-in with the sector. In particular, we should be asking if our approaches to teaching, learning, and student support are proving sustainable in an on-campus, on-line, digital, blended, hybrid and offshore world.

The stakes are high. If our offerings are high quality and align with global skills and industry demands, we could capitalise online and offshore with the potential to educate 10 million students in the next 10 years. For this to occur, however, our ways of working must be sustainable.

One way to increase sustainability is through partnership models that use additional workers, technology, or services to make the university nimble during uncertain times and faster when opportunities arise to enter new markets.

There are already precedents for successful partnerships in higher education. For example, Jillian Fox and Carmel Diezmann’s research found eight types of teaching and learning partnerships evident in Australian universities – university & stakeholder; academic & stakeholder; work integrated learning; work experience; priority (industry) courses; partnership appointments/ institutes; international engagements; activities & events (e.g., advisory boards, industry expos, Careers Fairs).

However, entering into such arrangements, including with On-line Programme Managers (OPMs), receive mixed reviews as follows:


* Industry partners can teach students niche skills

* Fast reach into new markets to gain market share

* Universities needn’t build new/online platforms themselves

* Revenue uplift from university partnerships with OPMs


* Partnering is associated with outsourcing

* Difficulties in getting academic buy-in

* The invisibility of OPMs’ involvement to students, academics, tax payers

* Partnership models lack rules and consistent quality frameworks which has led to government investigations in the US.

In a post-Covid world of government funding changes, skills shortages, free-to-degree online platform behemoths, and increased competition for students, universities will need to move faster. Our sector’s future will be either “thriving” or “diminishing”.

If partnerships are the answer to sustainability in the on-campus, on-line, and off-shore world, then individual universities need to reflect on (1) who they can partner with to innovate and make themselves sustainable, and (2) which aspects of teaching and learning do they want to keep control of by performing in-house?


Dr Dawn Gilmore, Director of Quality & Enhancement, The Centre for Academic Quality and Enhancement (CAQE), RMIT University. [email protected] @DawnGilmore9

Dr Chinh Nguyen, Senior Consultant, Online Programs Manager, Curio. [email protected]


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