Australian universities are 'monolithic' - report
Source: David Clode on Unsplash

Australian universities need to make radical changes to keep up with employers’ demands, a new study has found.

In the age where two out of five university degrees will soon be obsolete and graduates are heavily in debt, universities are now facing pressure to stay internationally competitive, according to the University of the Future report by EY (formerly Ernst & Young).

“Australia’s universities are monolithic institutions that control all aspects of their teaching and research activities, anchored by physical spaces and time-bound schedules,” the report said.

“What is clear from this exercise is that profound change is imminent in the education sector. Policy makers and university leaders will need to work together to challenge the status quo and adjust the settings to ensure Australian universities are encouraged to innovate, invest and transform.”

Slow to change. Source: Shutterstock

This slow response to change is having impact on the type of graduates they are producing, according to EY. The firm said it is recruiting from technical and further education or TAFE institutions for the first time in a long time as university graduates arent’s showing skills they need.

SBS reported Catherine Friday Partner, Oceania Education Leader from EY saying:

“Those institutions that can crack the new, flexible teaching learning models required will reap the benefits, as they outpace competitors that persist in delivering three to four-year degree programs that employers simply do not value.”


The report is based on interviews with more than 50 university leaders, government policy-makers and industry observers. More than 3,000 students and employers were surveyed.

The report identified five external factors impacting universities today and in the future: Rise of continuous learning; Changing world of work; Blurring industry boundaries; Evolving digital behaviour; Increasing internal competition.

It offers four possible outcomes of what the country’s universities of the future would look like:

1. Champion University

This is grounded in a hands-on approach by the government, which will “actively champion” universities as “strategic national assets”. Universities “streamline operations” by transforming service delivery and administration and most students continue to enrol in traditional undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

2. Virtual University 

Universities and vocational institutes will be integrated and restructured into networks sharing digital platforms by a hands-on government. Continuous learners with their preference for “unbundled courses” – delivered flexibly and online – will make up the bulk of students here. This is expected to be an “extreme case”.

3. Commercial university

This is the likeliest outcome. This university will be free from government intervention and will be financially independent “to ease national budget pressures”. It will work closely with industry for teaching and research. “Students favour degree programs that offer work-integrated learning,” the report said.

4. Disruptor University

While this will have a hands-off approach from the government as well, continuous learners will prefer “on-demand micro-certificates” as technology disrupts the workspace. With a deregulated education sector, the universities will enter new markets and services, competing with other educational service providers.

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