The Big Five (5) Higher Education Challenges Ahead of Us in 2023 and 2024
There are always significant issues facing institutions in the Higher Education sector and these do vary from year to year with some issues remaining significant for periods of time. In 2023 and 2024 there are a number of high-profile issues that need to be at least considered – if not seriously addressed and supported.
A Return to Campus
COVID-19 changed the landscape significantly – if not permanently. Online (including blended and hybrid modes) became the norm and at my own institution was very well received and supported by students as evidenced by consistently high SFUs, excellent QILT outcomes, and a clear indication of enthusiasm to stay online (high 90 per cent on the last survey).
The Australian Government, in its wisdom, has mandated some form of return to campus – driven by real estate and retail issues if the truth be known. It is important to find the correct balance throughout 2023 and into 2024 – and hybrid appears to be the logical option.
The shift from a full regime of examinations – forced by COVID-19 issues - to a more balanced approach has had no impact on quality outcomes or grade distribution at my own institution. As we shift to a non-examination environment in T3, 2023 we need to be mindful of the new pressures associated with academic integrity and at the same time be fair and honest with students in terms of feedback and results.
A shift to the normalisation of grades is a sensible consideration in the new regime. Hopefully, this will provide a fair and accurate grading system in line with the rest of the Sector and at the same time maintain the standards required.
In non-research organisations – such as my own – the opportunity to do scholarly activities needs to be emphasised and supported in tangible ways. A clear understanding of what scholarship actually is – and then a concentrated support mechanism to encourage teaching staff, in particular, to engage in scholarly pursuits that support and enhance their teaching effort is absolutely essential.
Once a clear understanding of what research actually is all about – a simple and accessible harvesting tool needs to be put in place to support and highlight effort as a way of further encouraging staff to make scholarship a part of their daily working lives. Developing a culture of scholarship is not an easy feat – but it is doable.
As the landscape changed – particularly with people working from home - or from anywhere for that matter – the importance of communication has become more significant than ever. Institutions need to invest in ensuring that communication channels remain absolutely wide open and meetings (of all sorts) are productive and useful for/to all involved.
This will mean managing hybrid meetings, symposia and conferences in a different – though still valuable and informative – way. Technology can assist with the challenge as will a new perspective on when, how and why meetings occur and how we can maximise the benefits of this time together.
See: Meeting smarter
Essential to growth and prosperity will be ensuring that compliance is a key consideration when growing and diversifying. Often seen as a chore and a diversion from teaching and learning – compliance in fact needs to be supported to ensure that what is being taught and what is being done within an organisation is appropriate and supportive of students in particular.
With the five challenges laid out – the essential ingredient is care. That is care for students and the way they can best achieve their aspirations; balancing assessment and evaluation to ensure quality and fairness (not to mention integrity); caring for staff and ensuring that they are actively involved in meaningful scholarship that enhances their own profile as well as their teaching prowess; care in understanding how communication can be enhanced and meetings can become more meaningful and supportive; and, of course, taking care to be compliant in all we do.
Straight forward? Easy? Probably neither, but an absolutely essential focus for the next two years in particular in what is being called the post-COVID era – possibly best called the ‘slowly emerging from the shadow of COVID’ era.
Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer at Group Colleges Australia.