Thinking back to a year ago can be a depressing exercise. Back to a time where there was no global pandemic, we hadn’t experienced Australia’s most catastrophic bushfires, and we could still travel internationally.
One thing I also remember about last year was the considerable time spent talking about disruption, but in an entirely different context. Disruption was seen as the driver of global economic transformation. We were told we should not only be ready for it, but that it was something we should embrace, or risk being left behind. Researchers told us that an entrepreneur was only successful if they were a disruptor. Policy makers were thinking about how our regulatory and tax systems could keep evolving as disruption changed the way we worked and delivered products and services.
While disruptions in recent times have been driven by rapid technological change, 2020’s disruption is a different kind of beast. Without a cure or treatment for COVID-19, governments and society as a whole are working out how to adapt to the biggest disruption in a generation.
The universities in the Australian Technology Network have never stood still. In fact, we like to be disrupters from our radical and bold approaches to teaching and assessment, to our culture of commercialisation, fostering start-ups and the way we’ve brought industry right into the heart of our campuses. ATN universities share a collective spirit of disruptive innovation that ensures we continue to challenge the status quo of what it means to be a university.
And while we continue to put faith in the work of our global research community to find a treatment, cure or vaccine for this wicked virus, ATN universities are also looking at practical ways to assist the hundreds of thousands of workers who have been stood down, retrenched or let go.
After nearly three decades of almost uninterrupted economic growth, the shutdown is impacting us in ways we haven’t seen in a generation. Managing the recovery will require all of us supporting Australians get back on their feet. If we’ve learned anything from previous economic shocks, universities have an important role in providing practical support during difficult times.
A just transition means providing a pathway back into secure employment. A central role of universities in this transition is simple: support workers with new and targeted programs that help them re-train or re-skill so they can get back into work. A highly skilled workforce is a critical tool Australian business will need to kick start the post-pandemic recovery.
This is the reason why ATN universities strongly welcomed Minister Tehan’s Easter announcement of new short courses for training in national priority areas. These six-month courses, either at pre-bachelor or postgraduate level, have been developed rapidly in consultation with industry for delivery online.
Speed is critical and our universities have worked tirelessly to develop these courses so that students can start in July and be ready to jump back into the labour market by the end of the year.
ATN universities are drawing on our understanding of disruption and applying our industry focussed lens in designing an entirely new suite of courses. In a few short weeks we are ready to offer 21 courses across seven disciplines.
Not only will these new qualifications assist thousands of Australians during in the COVID-19 period, they could provide a catalyst for further reform of the higher education system. Should the Morrison Government provide long term funding for short courses, the sector will respond by developing a range of new stackable education products that better match the demands of Australian businesses and workers in an economy shaped by ongoing disruption.
Minister Tehan’s announcement of these courses is a positive step in the reform direction he flagged at last year’s National Press Club address where he promised ‘a new architecture’ for higher education.
As the disrupters in the Australian higher education sector, ATN is positively embracing the move toward short courses and hope they will continue to be funded over the long term. This kind of thinking would provide a perfect stimulus for our universities in continuing to better design suites of new qualifications that respond to needs of workers, business and the nation.
This piece originally appeared in the 27 May edition of The Australian