The lines between study and work are no longer clearly delineated and universities must adapt to meet the new demands of lifetime learners said University of Technology at Sydney (UTS) Vice-Chancellor and President, Andrew Parfitt at a boardroom lunch hosted by PwC Australia.
UTS is leading this change as they pivot from dealing primarily with undergraduate and postgraduate students to increasing offerings for students at all stages of their professional careers. This new “ecosystem is much more of a partnership between business and the university, and the student is at the centre of it,” explains Parfitt.
In addition to the new micro credentials and short courses, demand for undergraduate degrees remains strong. Undergraduate courses all involve some exposure to the world of work these days. Some IT degrees increasingly see workplace learning assessments as increased demand for cybersecurity and other IT skills pushes for skills ready employees as soon as possible.
Their degrees catered at entrepreneurship and problem solving, like the university’s Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation have an astounding 100% graduate employment rate. Demand is so high that the university can’t accommodate all the students who want to enrol. “Instead, we are embedding into all our other degrees transdisciplinary experiences, so students can get some exposure thinking across and between disciplines and working with people from other courses and working with industry related problems and how they are solved,” explains Parfitt.
He is no newcomer to educational trends, having been at the helm of UTS since November 2021. Previously he joined UTS from the University of Newcastle to take on the role of Provost and Senior Vice-President from 2017-2021, preceded by senior appointments at the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and at CSIRO.
His observation that postgraduate study has been stagnant for over a decade in Australia ties into the University’s need to offer shorter learning courses and opportunities, particularly as record low unemployment pushes increases demand for skilled workers. He even says, “I think postgraduate education is very much up for grabs as to how that is structured in the future.”
Bucking this trend is the interest by international students to earn postgraduate degrees for return to their own countries or to have for an Australian work environment. “One of the other areas we have been exploring is how to join up skilled migration with post graduate learning. We can provide a pathway into work with employers,” explains Parfitt who sees this as a big opportunity to offer migration pathways and help fill the constant skills shortage in the Australian landscape. Adding, “Making that more overt will help Australia become even more competitive in attracting really good international students.” While numbers vary each year, approximately 25% of UTS’s 45,000 student body are usually international students.
He is quick to add that these students are not taking away Australian jobs but helping grow and build more jobs. “For as long as I can remember there have been 10,000 engineering jobs still available. These are not the same jobs; we keep filling them and we keep growing. There is plenty of opportunity for everybody,” he adds.
The growing demand for skilled workers to build and maintain businesses has also prompted the University’s involvement in Tech Central, which is focused on increasing the number of start-ups and companies that are physically in the surrounding area. Parfitt notes that even post Covid “There is a real value in having people in a location and the precinct idea is to have people bouncing up against one another. For innovation to thrive people need to bump up against each other.” He points to a smaller scale success of the university’s Botany-based Tech lab, which is a large engineering space with lots of research students and engineering facilities co-located together in a thriving ecosystem.
He’s also proud of the exciting momentum behind UTS Startups, which this year created its 1000th start up. UTS Startups provides a free space while mentoring students to help get their business ideas up and running and brokering relationships with other entrepreneurs. Noting that not all the businesses survive, yet around 430 jobs were created in the last calendar year alone. “Even if people don’t go on to be business owners and creators the skills they have from being entrepreneurial, I think they refer to as intrapreneurial, is good for organisations, because they can bring different perspectives,” he explains.
Campus is no longer designed for passive learning, but customised open studios encourage teamwork and collaboration. He notes approvingly that campus is much less quiet now. “People come to campus to do things that are worth doing on campus.”
Another program, Wanago, provides HSC maths, technology and science teaching to senior students from 37 different high schools. The program focuses on students from populations that are underrepresented in STEM careers, such as those from low socio-economic backgrounds, and female students, and on schools that don’t have their own STEM teaching capabilities or resources. In this way UTS is helping to connect students with future job opportunities – given 75 per cent of jobs over the next decade will require STEM skills, while also helping to achieve better diversity in these professions.
There are many other programs already in place or in the pipeline for UTS that Parfitt is looking forward to implementing in the coming years. Collaboration and entrepreneurship are key elements in growing opportunities and meeting industry needs for the future.