OPINION

TIME TO CREATE UNIVERSITIES OF APPLIED SCIENCES?

Edited version of Pursuit article by Associate Professor Ruth Schubert and Professor Leo Geodegebuure, LH Martin Institute

 
 
 

The question for Australia’s future economy isn’t so much about where we are going, but how do we get there, and how do we take people with us?

Whether we are ready or not, our economy is transitioning away from its reliance on mining and traditional manufacturing, into a technology and innovation driven future focused on services and high-tech industries. In the five years from 2006 to 2011, firms less than three years old created 1.4 million jobs while employment in mature businesses dropped by 400,000.

What we need are new institutions to connect skills and industry to the applied research and innovation on which Australia’s future depends.

To transition successfully Australia needs to take a logical and urgent look at how our tertiary education institutions collaborate, and consider transforming public TAFEs into what Europe calls Universities of Applied Sciences.

What we need are new institutions to connect skills and industry to the applied research and innovation on which Australia’s future depends.

In Europe, new networks like Novel-T and Brainport in the Netherlands and Polihubin Italy, capitalise on pure and applied research. They use the talent of staff and students to form cross-disciplinary research groups in open innovation models with spin-offs, start-ups and established businesses. Brainport is now considered the third pillar of the Dutch economy, equally as important as the international shipping port at Rotterdam and the international airport at Amsterdam.

The overseas experience is that dynamic innovation ecosystems are not created overnight. They require vision, planning, careful implementation and the availability of targeted resources – human, as well as financial capital. It is hard work, but the results speak for themselves and Australia doesn’t have time to waste.

Internationally, the stand out example is the Netherlands, which has taken a pragmatic national approach to its tertiary education sector, particularly in relation to higher vocational education.

Firstly, it has brought together a disparate group of higher vocational institutions into a more streamlined group of 37 Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS). This group was supported to build their applied research capacity by the creation of a new type of researcher, known as a lector, who combine both research and industry expertise. A separate independent foundation manages a grants process to support applied research projects, and a network of strategic Centres of Expertise has also been created.

 

  A new vision for Australia’s public TAFEs could deliver the skills and applied research linked to industry and business urgently needed to transition the economy.

A new vision for Australia’s public TAFEs could deliver the skills and applied research linked to industry and business urgently needed to transition the economy.

To do the same in Australia would mean creating a new category of higher education and vocational education providers available only to comprehensive, mature, not-for-profit providers i.e. public TAFEs (and arguably some smaller teaching focused universities).

 

A NEW CLASS OF TEACHERS

Edited version of 3010 magazine article by Maxine McKew, an Honorary Fellow at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and author of Class Act (MUP).

 
 
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It’s a hard business. Intellectually demanding, physically exacting, and emotionally full-on. 

That’s what a new generation of student teachers at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education has discovered after full immersion in the first phase of their training in the Master of Teaching (MTeach) course. 

It’s not dissimilar to the way trainee doctors or nurses test their skills in teaching hospitals, hence the term “clinical practice” – the requirement that teachers assess and diagnose the individual learning needs of students. 

“The whole experience has underlined for me just how hard teaching can be,” says one of the student teachers, Tara Crivari. 

But it’s an approach that’s paying off. Graduates of the MTeach program – which only accepts the highest achievers – are highly sought after by school principals. And these newly-qualified teachers are able to hit the ground running: more than 90 per cent report that they feel well-prepared for what they find in the classroom. 

Program Co-ordinator Dr Daniela Acquaro (MEd 2005, PhD 2013), a teaching veteran herself, is the first to say that the Master of Teaching course is “miles in front of anything I studied over 20 years ago”. 

At 48, Avitabile is a mid-career changer. She spent 20 years as a nurse, before returning to study and completing a PhD in fire ecology. She brings a high level of science expertise and significant life experience to teaching and, with only a few months exposure to boisterous teenagers, she knows she has found her true vocation. 

“I love it,” she says. “I love the instant feedback from the class. The relationship you have with students and the general busyness of the day. That said, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve done a lot of hard things.” 

For Avitabile, that includes time spent nursing terminally ill children, combining work and study as a mature-age student, and the demands of a doctorate. None of it compares, she says, with the challenge and thrill of teaching a Year 8 class about particle theory and “watching a student demonstrate their understanding by being able to explain the concept to someone else”. 

The hope is that the mindset and training embraced by the Graduate School has a contagion effect.

The hope is that the mindset and training embraced by the Graduate School has a contagion effect, promoting an Australia-wide shift toward high-quality graduate qualifications and a generation of teachers who can accommodate challenge and complexity. 

A bonus would be in achieving something close to what we see in high-performing Finland and Singapore, where teachers are prized professionals, on a par with doctors. 

But ultimately, the beneficiaries will be future generations of children – an incalculable return on investment.