Innovation in learning and teaching is taking place at an unprecedented pace. Many innovative practices are being driven by lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from the endless quest for cost efficiencies, some of the key innovative developments include: pedagogical design for fully online or blended course delivery; building digital capability; development of microcredentials; new forms of third-party partnerships; and revisiting learning and student support with a strong focus on personalised on-campus and online experience.

As tertiary education institutions innovate their learning and teaching practices, it is critical that national regulators and professional accreditation bodies support their pursuit of innovation at a scale and speed that assures their international competitiveness. Failure to recognise and encourage beneficial change will inhibit essential growth, the financial sustainability of institutions and their access to new market opportunities, and affect our sector’s reputation for educational innovation.

International universities are already well ahead of us when it comes to innovative course design. There are now world leading universities offering one-two year graduate courses with flexible entry requirements and a range of support programmes for on-line students at a price point that is much lower than what we offer in Australia. Institutions such as Purdue University, Arizona State University, Imperial College London, Indiana University, Coventry University and many others are offering attractive interdisciplinary courses that cut across disciplines as diverse as, business, computer science, health, and engineering. For many graduate students, institutional reputation and curriculum relevance to professions are key choice factors. In the post pandemic context, cost and affordability are important factors for many international students from different markets. The post-pandemic ubiquity of online education has turbo-charged the global educational services market.

In Australia, discussions remain quite focussed on course design that will satisfy TEQSA and professional body requirements, instead of evidence-based pedagogical design that aligns with 21st century learner and employer needs. The compliance driven quality culture has shifted our focus from robust quality enhancement to constrained compliance. The compliance mandate is inhibiting our ability to move fast in an environment that demands agility to meet the needs of 21st century learners and an increasingly mobile workforce. While it is, of course, important to meet regulatory requirements for quality assurance, it is equally critical to recognise the future needs of learners, shifting workforce requirements and the pace of global innovation.

To take the specific example of masters degrees, when the revised Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) was introduced in 2013, universities restructured their graduate courses to satisfy the volume of learning requirements. The two-year graduate course structure is now outdated. Why would working professionals undertake a two-year Australian degree when top ranked universities are offering shorter and flexible courses at a much lower price? The one-year masters is highly attractive in all markets – particularly domestic and offshore online.

For entry-level qualifications, large employers are now hiring high school leavers without waiting for them to complete a bachelor degree. Arguably, many high school students enrolling in undergraduate professional degrees have already attained key foundation skills re-taught in the first year. We need shorter undergraduate qualifications that recognise fundamental skills that many students have already attained in the workforce or at school.

Accredited higher education providers in Australia are now moving to develop microcredentials. Industry, professional bodies and TAFEs are also developing microcredentials as part of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) offerings to upskill and/or reskill workers. The recent release of the National Microcredentials Framework provides some clarity, however it is unclear how quality assurance will be monitored across different types of providers. Minimum Standard 5.6.1 states:

Where an issuing authority has not applied a regulated standard (i.e. the standards and academic integrity processes applied to award courses or components within a training package) to a microcredential, they must provide a statement of assurance of quality on the marketplace – e.g. a profile of the provider/ institution, a description of the quality assurance processes undertaken, and the process for review/ updating the microcredential.

These short forms of learning enable institutions to expand their global footprint by providing courses to professionals across the globe. Many UK and US universities have established presences in this space, partnering with Edtech providers such as Coursera, FutureLearn, edX, UpGrad, 2U, udacity, udemy and class central.

We need to encourage and support institutions in learning and teaching innovation to enable growth into new markets. Moving fast and being an innovator in learning and teaching requires the regulators and professional bodies to support institutions to compete with international universities.

Mahsood Shah is a professor and dean of Swinburne Sydney. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the University


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