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What we heard at the Universities Australia conference

22 August, 2022

The 2022 Universities Australia (UA) conference was a great success, bringing the higher education sector together for the first large-scale, in-person event since 2019. We asked OES team members Sue Kokonis, Mike Hallett, and Claire Sadler what they heard in their conversations with university leaders.

Sue Kokonis
Executive Director, Academic and Partnerships

[Federal Education Minister] Jason Clare’s speech at the UA dinner was a highlight. There was a general consensus that he is willing to connect and listen to universities.

The commentary throughout the conference was that students will return to campus but in different ways. Hybrid is being viewed as the way forward. There was also an acknowledgement that online is here to stay in some form.

Universities were keen to talk about the future of work, including the upcoming jobs summit and the role universities can play in shaping the workforce of the future. Universities can add so much more than upskilling. Graduates need to be prepared to deal with problem solving and uncertainty. There was strong interest in course stacking and building shorter courses into degrees.

Mike Hallett
Business Development Director

Universities wanted to discuss how technology can improve student experience, engagement and accessibility. Preparing for the new wave of ‘digital natives’ was a high priority. There was strong interest in simulations and how they can provide authentic learning and development of in-demand skills.

Accessibility and equity was a key talking point following Minister Clare’s speech. It’s clear that the new government wants to understand what universities are doing in these areas, while universities want to know what government support is available to enable this work.

Claire Sadler
Executive Director, Market Development

Accelerating the return of international students to Australia was a major theme. Universities are looking to diversify their traditional source markets. Visa processing lags are an ongoing headache.

Equity also came up a lot. Minister Clare clearly signalled that this would be a key focus for him, hence the investment in the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) at Curtin University. Universities will be watching this space keenly.

Getting students and academics back onto campus was a shared challenge. Universities are looking at how to provide the flexibility and support options that will meet all needs. There were many discussions around how to reignite campuses to ensure students want to spend time there, knowing how important social interaction is, especially for school leavers.