Striving for some extent of distinction


With the pandemic having uncovered Australian universities’ monetary dependency on worldwide schooling, strain is rising on these within the higher-education sector to reimagine their futures.

Some college chiefs will revisit merger talks, whereas others will downsize their bodily footprint and lease underutilised area to 3rd events.

Some governing our bodies and college executives will flip to extra conventional diversification actions reminiscent of short-course supply, government schooling, and the commercialisation of mental property.

Others nonetheless will give attention to tackling what many observers describe as a serious missed alternative: differentiation in a crowded market of sameness.

In case you suppose Australia’s 37 public universities, unfold over greater than 200 campuses, will be differentiated by how they’re structured and function and what they provide, then you might be incorrect.

Many consultants will inform you nearly all of public universities are variations on a single theme: the excellent analysis college.

In primary phrases, a complete analysis college embraces instructing and analysis. It means college students have the chance to review a variety of disciplines throughout undergraduate and postgraduate ranges, whereas analysis is performed in lots of (however not essentially all) of the identical disciplines.

When you’ve got any doubts in regards to the uniformity of the college sector, a look on the strategic plans of these within the higher-education sector might be instructive.


The aim or imaginative and prescient statements of most Australian universities share placing resemblances, whatever the establishment’s geographic location, measurement, budgets, scholar numbers and age.

Most will point out world-class analysis and the manufacturing of work-ready or enterprising graduates. Some will reference engagements or partnerships with the group.

Drill down one other layer to the programs on supply and the sameness shifts to a different degree.

All our 37 public universities have a type of enterprise college, play within the instructor schooling area, and all (bar one) have a legislation college.

Most working in universities consider that institutional differentiation is a optimistic.

However reaching variety is difficult due to quite a few obstacles together with, for instance, the actual fact the college title is reserved for establishments engaged in each instructing and at the least some analysis. That makes it troublesome for a college to qualify beneath the teaching-only precept.

Regardless of the various obstacles, differentiation is an actual chance and a chance for universities to compete extra successfully and keep away from compelled mergers.


There are alternatives, for instance, for specialist universities. 

Image a college that focuses on science or the humanities, however not each. And think about the potential for an establishment specialising in levels in commerce or enterprise with majors together with skilled accounting, accounting, economics, human sources and different associated educational areas.   

If problems with definition have been resolved, there’s additionally the prospect of teaching-only universities, although critics declare that analysis critically informs college instructing. And if there are teaching-only establishments, why not research-only ones, too?

There may be additionally the prospect of an online-only college, which has a small bodily footprint located domestically however enrols college students nearly from across the globe.

Consultants additionally level to the potential for a postgraduate-only or graduate-school college for college students with an undergraduate diploma or equal work expertise who want to advance their qualifications.

And let’s not low cost the potential for an elevated variety of dual-sector universities that ship each vocational qualifications (certificates, diplomas and superior diplomas) and undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.

There are even alternatives to kill off uniformity by differentiating on the idea of the coed expertise.  

Think about, for instance, the college that features a one-year internship as a part of each undergraduate qualification, a normal six-month research abroad for the worldwide expertise, or one that permits a three-year diploma to be accomplished in two by making higher use of universities’ beneficiant vacation intervals.


There isn’t any query that differentiation requires imaginative and prescient, self-discipline and focus. 

It additionally requires governing our bodies and college executives to take calculated dangers. 

Achieved effectively, differentiation can play to an establishment’s power in a approach that advantages everybody, together with the scholars.

• Professor Gary Martin is chief government on the Australian Institute of Administration WA

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