by Shahida Sweeney

Technology universities drive labour market demand

Oct 13, 20144 mins
Education Industry

Australian employers have their sights firmly set on high-tech university graduates. These institutions are holding the own against the traditional sandstone universities, says a report tracking the trends for higher education.

This report, released by the Melbourne-based Grattan Institute, foreshadows a strong demand for tech-savvy graduates. The report’s author and program director, Andrew Norton, told CIO that technology universities offer more vocationally-oriented subjects.

“They are also often better-connected with the private sector and have strong research outreach with the industry,” he said.

In contrast, sandstone universities may offer a more theoretical base and provide “knowledge for the sake of knowledge” rather than commercially-focused learning, he said.

Labour market demand

On an international ranking scale, technology universities including the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Curtin University and Queensland University of Technology rate lower compared to their sandstone counterparts.

“But this does not seem to matter in the Australian labour market,” Norton said.

The Grattan Institute’s research suggests that, for financially-focussed students, the technology universities may represent better value for money. Their graduates earn similar amounts to sandstone university graduates, but the cost is typically less than the Group of Eight institutions.

For graduates with bachelor degrees like commerce or science earning attending a sandstone or technology university is likely to be worth about $200,000 more over their working lives.

Future of adaptive learning

On the learning front, universities are using adaptive learning tools that are built around students’ learning needs.

“These tools enable students to learn in their own time, rather than enforced timelines,” said Norton. “Universities’ adaptive learning software uses computers as interactive teaching devices.”

Computers are programmed to adapt educational material to students’ needs.

“There are checks and balances inside this model,” added Norton. “The pre-loaded software will not let you take the next step until all questions are answered. This means you must fully understand what you are trying to learn.”

Intelligent tutoring systems have transformed a passive learner to one that collaborates at all steps of the learning process.

“These are being designed for both desktop and web apps,” said Norton.

New firms have emerged that sell educational software around adaptive learning. These include Knewton in the United States and Smart Sparrow in Australia.

Educational marker forecast

The future lies in closer alliances between higher education and technology, said Norton.

“As higher education becomes more competitive, partnerships can give universities access to new markets and technologies,” he said.

Among the trends highlighted by the Grattan Institute report, teaching-related activities will be coordinated increasingly through commercial learning management systems.

These systems store course content and are used to submit work, run student forums, record assessment results, and do other administrative tasks.

Organisations such as Blackboard and Moodle are helping universities co-ordinate teaching activities.

Educations services are now available through largest educational services company, Pearson Education. This company, operating in more than 70 countries including Australia, publishes textbooks and offers a wide range of online educational services. One of these is Smarthinking, a 24/7 online tutorial service that is used by some Australian universities.

Digital education is also taking centre stage. Open learning programs are now a mainstay. Of the 43 established institutions, the bulk offer on-line course-material, in an anywhere, anytime online environment. This access is available on PCs, smart phones and mobile devices.

“Funding policy changes have made it easier for public universities to offer more undergraduate online courses,” the report noted. “Although there is a real trend towards off-campus enrolment, the distinctions between on-and off-campus study are blurred.”

The Grattan Institute report is available here.

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