Short, not always sweet, courses in our imperfect world


reflecting on alternative providers and universities, Victoria University’s Farzad Khosrowshahi summed it up well: “they go faster, we go further”

Last week I had the pleasure of addressing two very different conferences – the first was the 2022 annual conference of the deans of science and the second was HolonIQ’s Melbourne Summit (part of their Global Impact Summit series).

Despite the different audiences there was significant overlap in the issues I discussed with both groups.

The science deans invited me to discuss, “Australia’s skill shortages: what can Australian university science do to meet them?”, while at the HolonIQ event I canvassed the current context in Australian higher education, VET and international education – and the opportunities for partnerships and ed tech in these sectors.

The profound changes occurring in the world of work are driving increased demand for more “just-in-time” short courses to help individuals and businesses adapt. And science is not immune from these changes – with analysis in Australia by the former National Skills Commission showing a raft of scientific occupations experiencing current skill shortages and predicted to face moderate to severe shortages in future.

In response, some universities are offering short courses in topics including environmental science (Carnegie Mellon University) and biochemistry (MIT) – but there are also a growing number of non-accredited, alternative providers in these and other fields, e.g. Udemy (medical biochemistry), One Education/ (agricultural science) and many, many more in the IT sector. These providers offer free or very cheap online alternatives to higher education degrees and VET certificates and are enrolling thousands (and in some cases hundreds of thousands) of learners.

The growth in alternative providers also emerged as a key issue at the HolonIQ Summit. A number of presenters reflected on what these alternative providers and their offerings mean for VET and higher  education providers.

One topic which I had expected a greater focus on at the HolonIQ Summit was the growth in immersive (AR) learning. It is one of the current key trends in EdTech internationally. Although I should note that after I shared a video with the science deans, it was pointed out to me that “the fish (which the student in the video virtually dissected at their laptop) was perfect” and of course education needs to prepare learners for all of the circumstances where life is imperfect.

Reflecting on alternative providers and universities, Victoria University’s Farzad Khosrowshahi summed it up well: “they go faster, we go further”.

 Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector. Her presentation to the HolonIQ Summit is available as a podcast and on her website.