Uni bosses predict permanent shift to online learning but not a ‘full-scale revolution’


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“But people are going to understand the full capability of digital, of being able to do things remotely. So I think it would be foolish to say that there won’t be a change for Australia. There will be expectations of us providing remote products and that will be a certain segment of the market.”

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence said staff had risen to the remote learning challenge and were using it as an opportunity to develop their approaches to blended learning.

“These experiences will undoubtedly benefit our teaching and learning in the future, but we also know the value of face-to-face human interaction,” he said.

“The campus experience along with group tutorials, practical workshops, placements and other real-world learning opportunities help provide a broad and engaging education – and a real sense of being part of a community.”

Queensland University of Technology vice-chancellor Margaret Sheil said the online shift would inevitably change teaching and had caused previously sceptical academics to embrace the advantages.

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“Equally, we are getting very clear about what doesn’t work online … I don’t think we will end up all online,” she said. “We will end up with a much more sophisticated understanding of what can and can’t be used.”

Western Sydney University vice-chancellor Barney Glover said the shift would not be a full-scale revolution, but “something of a changing of the guard” that would enhance understanding of how to do education differently.

“We don’t envisage a landscape where universities have transformed to become fully-online, but we do see a higher education sector that will be forever changed by this period in time,” he said.

“Universities will take stock from this and transform their models of teaching to ones that offer even greater flexibility for students and provide them with even more choices in how they learn.”

Universities are also confronting an immediate financial crisis, with international student revenue slashed since the COVID-19 outbreak started. The sector faces estimated losses of $3 billion to $4.6 billion or more and is lobbying the federal government for a rescue package.

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