Some of Australia’s leading vice-chancellors (VC) say the system of collaboration with other sectors is “broken”, and they want to rebuild connections with government, industry and other educational sectors to drive better jobs and to address why some students are being lost to the system.
In a series of interviews I undertook with seven vice chancellors for PwC’s 18th Government and the Global CEO: Delivering outcomes, creating value publication I was struck by their hunger to strengthen their institutional links with other segments of the economy to work through longer-term problems facing the country.
In particular they expressed a strong desire to bring together the innovation that is coming from universities and create bridges to industry (notably small and medium enterprises) to help them to also innovate and raise productivity.
As debate about how closely the universities are managed and regulated by government continues, at least one VC expressed the best role for government was to “get out of the way”. One VC said that, where there must be regulation, government should focus on it causing the least harm; and that we need regulators who are world class to ensure where we do regulate, we do it better.
Engaging with the VC’s I found they were all beginning to use data much more to inform big decisions, connecting data sets that had previously been segregated in different silos. The general sentiment was that we are only at the very beginning of discovering the potential of learning analytics – how we know that students are learning, what they are learning and improving educational outcomes. In pursuit of better outcomes, universities are investing at varying rates – some heavily – to enhance the learning experience.
Some, for instance, are moving towards using ethnography to create highly immersive learning environments, akin to flight simulators. This rigour in understanding what stimulates great learning is very exciting and could lead to some major changes in teaching methodology.
I also found a strong desire among VC’s to adopt the outcomes approach that is now leading a lot of public sector rethinking across Australia.
Rather than focus on technical outputs (eg waiting lists in hospitals) an outcome approach asks what is the end result (eg healthy population) and then looks for (sometimes) alternative ways to get that result.
There was general attraction to the prospect of an outcome-based approach, with one VC stating “we would be delighted to shift to an outcome based economy”. It would be great to engage with both government and industry around outcomes. But our experience with government is that this is not happening.
In my experience, an outcomes-based, sharing economy makes people think harder about what they are trying to do. This leads to being smarter about trade-offs and uses resources more wisely.
It also challenges the various interests in a debate to quantify their proposals and makes this transparent as well as the actual result that is being targeted.
The VC’s I spoke to left me with the impression the community cares less about whether the data or measures are 100% right, but do care about what is being done to improve performance. This is a timely caution to not let a focus on data become an obsession, but rather to inform us intelligently about expected results and then to act on these trends.