New tertiary education models around the globe: would they work in New Zealand?

October 2016


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The New Zealand Productivity Commission’s 2016 tertiary education issues paper has highlighted several innovative new tertiary education models that are making an impact overseas.

Tertiary edu modelsIn its inquiry into new models of education, the Productivity Commission noted in its issues paper published early this year, examples in other countries of innovations that, rather than being incorporated into existing business models at the margins, have significantly reshaped how providers plan and undertake the delivery of education to students.

For example, providers striking out to deliver tertiary education online and through blended models that combine online and face-to-face delivery/provision to previously unserved groups of students; cutting-edge approaches to using administrative and other data to tailor learning support to individuals; the close integration of work and learning not just for vocational education, but also higher education; and ‘all you can eat’ models of education where students pay by subscription and sit as many credits as they wish.

The Commission’s report notes that “none of these models would supplant existing delivery models in New Zealand. But a well-functioning tertiary education system would offer more diversity and specialisation on the part of providers, and students would be able to choose from models like these alongside more traditional options”.


Georgia State University: innovative use of student data to improve outcomes

Georgia State University (GSU) is a public research university with a total enrolment of 33,000 undergraduate students. GSU’s six-year graduation rate has increased from 32 per cent in 2003 to 54 per cent in 2014, while at the same time significantly increasing the share of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Much of this improvement has been attributed to GSU’s innovative use of student data, which is used to identify barriers to student progression and graduation.

GSU has developed a database based on more than 10 years’ worth of academic data. The database displays real-time information about the academic progress of each student. The system includes over 800 alerts “signalling everything from registering for a class that does not count towards a designated major to receiving a low grade in a prerequisite class for that major”. This allows student advisors to proactively contact students and intervene to help resolve issues before they become acute.


Udacity: nanodegrees and job guarantees

In 2013 and 2014 three of America’s largest MOOC providers (Udacity, edX and Coursera) all switched from issuing single course certificates to issuing credentials that require students to complete a sequence of courses. The aim of these credentials is to provide a signal of competence for skills that are in demand in the workplace. For example, Udacity offers 12 information technology related programmes called nanodegrees. Each nanodegree costs US$199 a month, and takes between six and 12 months to complete. Students who complete the programme receive a refund of 50 per cent of their tuition fee. The individual courses that make up a nanodegree are free; however, only students enrolled in a paid programme earn the credential.

In January 2016, Udacity launched ‘Nanodegree Plus’, which costs US$299 a month and includes a Career Advisor programme and Career Concierge services. The programme includes a job guarantee – course fees are refunded if students have not gained employment within six months of completing the programme.


University of Adelaide: new pedagogical models

The University of Adelaide’s strategic plan noted that the landscape for tertiary education will become more challenging over the next decade as a result of changes including technological progress, globalisation, increased competition for students, and less stability of government funding for universities. As part of their response to these challenges, the university has committed to a ‘small-group discovery experience’ as a central part of their students’ learning.

The university identified many challenges associated with implementing this new approach, including finding ways to recognise and reward staff who wish to contribute more to teaching than research; rethinking the way that the university makes use of lecture theatres and other teaching spaces, and innovative use of the university budget, including significant investment in information technology and e-learning facilities.

The university also identified a need to assist staff to adapt to new ways of working. For example, using ‘flipped’ classrooms, where lectures and other forms of preparation are put online for students to access before coming to a class, and class time is spent engaging with the material in a more interactive manner.


Denmark: teacher training for vocational education,

A recent legislative change in Denmark introduced new training requirements for teachers delivering vocational education. Within four years of employment, vocational teachers must acquire skills that, as a minimum, correspond to a completed pedagogical diploma programme. The training programme is provided by the National Centre for Vocational Pedagogy and requires the equivalent of one year of full-time study. However, this is generally conducted part-time in conjunction with gaining practical teaching experience. The National Centre for Vocational Pedagogy also provides education courses for vocational education teachers, such as specific programmes on teaching adults.

The objective of the new requirement is to improve the teaching skills of those at vocational training providers to a level equivalent to teachers in compulsory education (where a bachelor’s degree is required). In a broader sense, it is hoped that setting minimum pedagogical training standards will contribute to the Government’s goal of a 95 per cent completion rate in vocational education.

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