Or, the Year the walls came downBy David Wright
Well, who saw THAT coming? 2016 was a year of startling change – Brexit, Donald Trump, 5000-1 outsiders Leicester City topping the English Premier League, and all the other Rumsfeldian unknown unknowns that suddenly became very known indeed.
Uncertainty and even a sense of foreboding are apparent as we move into 2017. Prediction is always perilous, even more so now because events have served to make pollsters, pundits and sundry experts look less than reliable.
Nevertheless, we are going to chance our arm and look at the challenges higher education leaders might face in the coming year:
This is shaping as the new battleground. Most new strategic plans include a material increase in internships or similar with many universities setting a near term goal of all students having an industry experience. New research impact metrics and the effect of rising industry research incomes weightings in rankings are further drivers.
As we have seen in the medical, allied health and education fields providing high quality placements can become a significant barrier. While service providers such as Intersective provide a neat solution to this challenge and offerings such as the NSW Government Global Scope Program provide great opportunities, winning the relationship with the external partner will become hotter than ever. Some will be successful some will not.
In Sydney a pack of universities is seeking these relationships simultaneously - many chasing the same industry partners with very different engagement models.
Success in industry engagement means a mindset that brings parties in, makes Universities easily accessible to parties not normally walking the halls. Bringing down the walls in this way, creating more circumstances for planned engagement and what we call 'strategic serendipity' is a challenge for many academics, not just to an already packed workload but to the way Universities operate.
Future university finances
Most universities know that the current financial operating models are such that costs are growing at a level that is both unsustainable and producing much lower returns than would be the case if those costs were deployed as investments to create sustainable excellence.
Many universities have waited for the golden egg in the form of deregulated fees, which would have made the process of managing their finances much easier. Of course, some fought against deregulation but all have now assumed that the wait is fruitless and they must move forward without this potential upside.
Hard calls are needed. The majority of institutions are correctly framing this around creating and/or sustaining excellence. The most progressive are ensuring that this process is not driven by costs but by excellence in the most efficient way. This may involve increased costs but the question of jobs should be taken off the table until the plan has completed.
Communication, consultation and collaboration around this area of change is a challenge and universities continue to look at better ways to do this. Applications such as Zeetings are being used very effectively to provide information and then seek auditable feedback, rather than the endless town-halls and other meetings where many felt their voices were not heard.
We also feel there is an imminent push for greater transparency around university finances by general public, governments (State and Federal), unions and the VET sector who feel picked on. This may hit in 2017 with rumblings already communing from regulators such as TEQSA.
The rise of Faculty
Most universities have materially improved the back office operations of their recruiting and marketing functions. Live pipeline reports from early engagement to retention hardly existed a few years ago but now are commonplace - as are channel management plans that optimise the university's power and position as well as create diversity and strategic value. We are delighted to have helped several universities to get to this place.
The next stage of development will come from greater empowerment of the Faculty. In many universities there is still substantial separation and lack of a model for working together to help to develop the university. Models are being rolled out where Faculty plays a much more integrated role in the future success of areas like student recruiting and external engagement (for more information on successful Faculty Marketing see our HECG paper on the topic here.)
Lifetime of Learning Models
Many industries have known for a long time that acquiring a customer is hard but that acquisition is much easier and cheaper in a few circumstances: First, where you already have a good relationship with the person and second, where the person has already acquired another product or service. Strategy teams in Universities have been looking at students mode and more in this way - a long term relationship rather than an enrolment based transaction.
Lifetime of Learning Models are one way of doing this and the ones we have seen have enviable return on investment for the University and are a clear example of user-based design. The models look to develop a relationship between University and Student that breaks the learning into different and sometimes smaller parts tracking the needs of the individual student at the relevant time in their life. Universities have tremendous connection and insight into their their students and we expect this to be a very big focus or Universities in 2017.
Big data and analytics
Universities have always been deeply engaged in analytics of the data they generate or have access to. 2016 has seen substantial progress by many universities in the use of this improved capability - particularly around student recruitment and learning analytics. In 2017 predictive and decision models will be the next step in the analytics journey for higher education. Some like Deakin are well along their way already.
Predictive models will be used to predict student demand, engagement, behaviour, progression, retention, graduation and likelihood of future studies and be used by faculties to model program demand while decision-models will be built to model investment, marketing and even program-mix investment scenarios.
The future of the PhD
The PhD qualification as it now stands in Australia was critiqued during the year by the likes of Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, the Australian Council of Learned Academies, and Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Dr Finkel made it clear that there is plenty of room for change and adaptation with the PhD particularly as the doctorate is no longer a ticket to a career in academe, saying “It is not enough for a PhD to have a big ambition in research and a superb depth of knowledge in their specialised field. At a minimum, they need to be capable of adapting what they know to the expectations of a non-academic job.” he said. Minister Birmingham agreed that the research training system needed to be improved to make it more internationally competitive.
The recent run of rankings or Australia in this area are so bad that this will continue to be a focus.
The new Go8 agreement with Westpac has some fantastic elements but has only a handful of students involved. To change the industry perception solutions must be much greater in scale and to achieve that scale we need a genuine change in the competencies of the PhD student, and the quality of experience. And perhaps even a change of offering or program. We expect some bigger and more evolved deals will occur in 2017.
The Innovation Wave
The Turnbull Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda has been criticised by some but it will continue to bring opportunities for higher education and we will see a big drive on innovation projects. Already there is an incredible number of new centres and programs with ‘Innovation’ in their title. But can they actually be innovative? One that is arguably the most successful such programs in Australia is the UTS Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation. In regard to student education in innovation the BCII points the way forward. The challenge for universities is to be genuinely innovative in the way they teach and do innovation.
The Vocational Education and Training sector is at last emerging from the scandal brought down by unscrupulous providers rorting the FEE-HELP loans system and so creating much misery for students. These providers created and serviced huge demand on the back of Government funds that could have been used more appropriately rather than supporting low value activity.
Now that the fog is clearing we expect strong, credible players to emerge with an ultimately larger share of the market which will be significantly affected by fee capping. There are tremendous opportunities for university-owned providers to take advantage of the demand, positioning themselves as a credible safe haven.
And that’s it for our attempts at prediction. What we can say with certainty is that we wish you all the very best for a profitable and successful 2017.
Originally posted on Linked IN by: David Wright
Contact John Assunto for all of your Education Recruiting needs! Johna@worldbridgepartners.com or 860-387-0503
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