A senior Sydney university vice chancellor believes the introduction of high-quality online courses will stimulate an untapped section of international students into Australia’s higher education system.
University of New South Wales’ vice chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said the courses would complement rather than replace the existing overseas student market, which is worth about $30 billion a year.
He admits there is resistance to the idea, with concerns such courses threaten to make the traditional campus experience obsolete.
“What we are really about is delivering something that changes people’s lives,” Professor Jacobs said.
“If you look at the world now, where are the two parts of the world that is really needed? Asia and Africa. “[Africa] is a very young continent, a real thirst there for education. There are great opportunities for Australia.”
Developing top courses would be expensive, Professor Jacobs said, as they would need to be interactive, and able to assess and respond to the capabilities of individual students.
“It [would be] very carefully designed so that students are motivated to continue all the way through and they don’t fall out,” he said.
International education is Australia’s third-largest export. Professor Jacobs expects the present number of international students to be maintained for “some years”, with a greater diversity of countries to make up for a potential fall in Chinese students.
“This is a new opportunity, an additional opportunity. I think it’s the direction that higher education is taking, and who knows where we will be in 25-30 years time when online is very well developed,” he said.
But online learning threatens the traditional university model of three or four-year degrees with on-campus lessons, as students embrace remote learning, or take courses more often but for shorter periods during their career.
“Some might speculate that a campus like this, instead of having 60,000 students who are here for a good part of three or four years, will have a million who are dipping in and out of the course of their careers and their lifetime,” Professor Jacobs said.
“Personally, I think that’s a really exciting prospect.
“Not everyone agrees. Some find it quite hard, the idea we’d move away from it. There’s something romantic about it – it’s important in the way people develop their lives, meet their friends, develop relationships.”
Higher education expert Sarah French from the University of Melbourne said being involved in campus social networks did improve learning.
“There’s such a thing as socialised learning, where students learn from one another, and there’s opportunities for peer leaning in informal settings and also in classrooms,” she said. “That’s difficult to replicate in online settings.
“I think students are going to continue to value campus life. Online learning is offering something different, and I can see it would be valuable to certain student demographics.”
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald