Higher education is changing as the world's economic centre of gravity shifts towards Asia.

Changing world of higher education

The Asian Century

As foreshadowed by the Australian Government's Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, the world's economic 'centre of gravity' will shift inexorably towards Asia over the next 30 years.

By 2020, it is estimated that more than half of the world's middle class will live in Asia. In the same period, countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Korea will continue to build high quality universities and higher education precincts to meet the growing local and international demand for a first-rate university experience.

While the projected demand for higher education across Asia will outstrip the supply of places until at least 2025, there will be intense competition for international students from within Asia and from a range of other countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Parents of prospective students will choose universities carefully - often on the standing of the university in an array of world ranking systems or based on international 'disciplinary league tables'.

The Australia in the Asian Century White Paper places an emphasis on the role of education as a key driver of successful engagement with Asia. The White Paper particularly focusses on the urgent need for future generations of Australian graduates to be 'Asia-literate', with an emphasis on cultural literacy and the capacity to speak an Asian language.

In his review of the UK government's science and innovation policy, Lord Sainsbury highlighted the paradox that "…while innovation is a global phenomenon, the role of regions as the critical nexus for innovation-based economic growth has increased."1

Engaging in research and innovation requires engaging in a 'global academy' where ideas and their outcomes are benchmarked against a world standard of quality and relevance. While Australia can expect to contribute around three per cent of the new global research outputs, we require experts to share in the knowledge development of the other 97 per cent. There are no late adopters of new research, only customers.

During the last decade there has been a growing awareness in the OECD and in major funding agencies that the effective translation of research outputs requires the formation of research and innovation 'clusters' or networks. Clustering can be a key means of driving regional development and can be defined as geographic concentrations of interconnected universities, companies, service providers, firms in related industries and associated institutions in particular fields working together to provide multidisciplinary solutions to complex problems. As an established research leader in energy, resources, logistics and optimisation, bio- and clinical medicine, and public health, UoN is uniquely positioned to build on these strengths through the work of NIER, HMRI, other key centres and new research and innovation clusters to translate great research into great innovation.


1 Lord Sainsbury (2007), The Race to the Top: A Review of Government's Science and Innovation Policies, London, p. 137

The Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) is a multidisciplinary research hub established by the University in 2010. NIER provides a new collective-based model that engages both academia and industry on a common platform to collaborate on significant local, national and international research into the critical issues of energy and resources. NIER research priorities sit alongside the energy reform agenda of government, industry and the community, and address rapidly emerging issues in the energy and resources sector.

An important part of NIER's research program is its work with the resources sector to improve productivity and efficiency in our mines. At the same time, NIER collaborates with industry on research into renewable sources of energy that contributes to a more sustainable future. A third stream of research activity at NIER is its work with the community looking at the social dimensions and impacts of mining activity.

With a growing local and national reputation, NIER has established a strong presence on the world stage through collaborations in China on smart grid technology and in South Africa on bulk solids research.

Researchers working within NIER may span a range of locations and disciplines, but through one door, industry in Australia and across the world are able to access innovation in energy and resources across a range of fields.

In recent times, it appears that an 'accelerant' has been added to the mix of global factors that are driving change in higher education. MOOCs (massive open online courses) have emerged on the international landscape with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard joining forces to launch 'edX', which offers courses to both on campus students and to millions around the world for free.

One of the first offerings, Circuits and Electronics from MITx, attracted over 154,000 enrolments with around 7,000 students making it to the end and passing the course.

In 2012, the Study of Undergraduate Students and IT by the EDUCAUSE Centre for Applied Research found that two out of every three students agreed that technology elevates the level of teaching; and open educational resources and game-based learning topped the list of what students would like from their instructors.

Supporting students to harness knowledge to understand their world and its past, to solve complex problems, to apply case or clinical studies or a platform for creativity will always be a university's core business. Against this backdrop, the next generation academic will blend disciplinary expertise with the capacity to engage students, wherever they are in the world, through the use of customised technologies. One of the many challenges ahead for all education institutions will be to define how much learning takes place 'in the cloud' and how much takes place 'on the ground'.

The University of Newcastle's Bachelor of Construction Management was increasingly attracting part-time students who were working and studying at the same time.

Recognising that this cohort could benefit from a more flexible approach to their learning, the University became the first in Australia to offer its Bachelor of Construction Management program through a mixed-mode delivery - studying completely on-campus, learning online as a distance student, or a blend of both.

Today, more than half of the program's 900 students undertake their studies completely online and study from bases in Asia, Africa and Europe, as well as other states in Australia. The program's courses are available through Blackboard technology, and the program draws on interactive web 2.0 tools such as Wiki, blogs and reflective journals to enhance student participation and encourage collaborative learning.

The Bachelor of Construction Management provides students with industry experience, and the program is fully endorsed by national and international professional bodies.

It has been forecast that by 2025 one-third of all jobs in Australia will require a minimum of a Bachelor degree and the need for high skill jobs will continue to increase as Australia strives to build its knowledge-based economy.

In a move to ensure greater productivity, the Australian Government has defined a set of ambitious targets for participation in higher education including that by 2025, 40 per cent of all 25 to 34 year olds will hold a qualification at Bachelor level or above; and that by 2020, 20 per cent of undergraduates will be from a low SES background.

These participation and equity targets present a challenge to the higher education sector to ensure the increase in access and participation results in the attainment of qualifications and an associated uplift in productivity.

The recent Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People1 (the Behrendt Review) also highlighted some key challenges in enabling access, participation and success of Indigenous students in higher education.

The recommendations of the Review support strategies that encompass building strong relationships and professional partnerships both across universities and with Indigenous communities.

UoN has built a range of alternative pathways for students to enter our programs, and has established longevity and proven performance in our enabling programs. Given these important factors, UoN is well placed to engage with the challenges of ensuring bright people have access to a university education independent of their background or circumstances.


1 Professor Larissa Behrendt, Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Final Report, July 2012 www.innovation.gov.au/IHER

Four decades ago, the University of Newcastle recognised the challenges faced by many in the community who had left school early, faced significant financial hardship or who had simply never considered the option of attending university.

The University was among the country's first to introduce 'enabling' programs designed to support motivated and talented students regardless of their background or circumstances to gain entry and do well at university. Since those early days in 1974, 37,000 students have enrolled in an enabling program through UoN and we are the largest provider of these programs in the country.

Today, the proportion of students from low socio-economic backgrounds enrolled at the University is 27 per cent, significantly higher than the sector average of 16 per cent. UoN is acknowledged as a leader in providing more opportunities for people from all walks of life with ability and determination to enter and succeed in higher education.

By the time the University of Newcastle turns 60 years old in 2025, the global higher education landscape will be transformed.

More universities will be established across the world as governments invest in building knowledge-based economies, and the emergence of a burgeoning middle class in Asia increases demand for higher education opportunities. Competition will be intense internationally for talented academic and professional staff and students, and new technologies will continue to redefine the teaching and learning experience in exciting ways. In this new world, partnerships will be the key to success and to addressing complex global challenges.