A continuum of learning where students enter, exit and re-enter higher education is a vision that’s been adopted by the University of Tasmania.
One way they are doing this is through the relatively new University College.
The University College has been operating since 2016 and chief executive Lee Whiteley explains about the college’s plans for the future.
Q: How has the University College changed and grown over the past two years?
So, 2016 was a formation year, 2017 was a pilot and this year we’ve rolled out more product. But, obviously, we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin, we want to provide students with real, quality experiences.
We have six core associate degrees but moving forward is where the industry inform is really important – we need industry to tell us what they need.
One of the things we are looking at is lean management (an approach that supports the concept of continuous improvement). We want to be more engaged in that as the University College.
Q: How do you become more engaged?
We talk to industry about how we can be more engaged. But we don’t want to be rolling out new courses every month. We want to identify what the market needs and ensure we have our bases covered.
Those conversations with industry are ongoing and continuing.
Q: What has been the feedback so far?
We have industry representatives on our advisory panels and so far, the feedback has been positive.
It’s important to have them at the table because when we’re talking specific industries, like fermentation, for example, it’s really important we have people from Fermentasmania at the table informing us; they’re the experts.
We want to help them skill up people in the workforce they need.
Q: Who are the target markets for enrolments?
There are three that we see; they are industry, the community and schools.
With industry, we need to work with them to provide the skills they need.
For the community, we need to reach further into the community. We have been working with community houses and we actually have had a number of enrolments recently who have come to us through our work with community houses.
These are people who may have missed out on being involved in higher education the first time around.
Q: What about schools?
If we met the national average for retention, there would be 1400 additional students coming to university every year. We will not be the state we want to be without all of those students staying in education.
But, this is not about every kid should go to university, that is not what I’m suggesting for a second, but I believe we should provide every kid with the choice to go to higher education.
We have to find a way to bridge that gap because we have far too many kids falling through the cracks.
Q: How does that work?
There is a lot of discussions still to have. However, we have received funding to get a truck, that we will be able to pack up and take to regional areas. Why couldn’t we take the truck, and a lecturer, up to Fossil Bluff and have them deliver a lecture on geology that could be streamed into schools?
It’s not a marketing exercise; we want to make sure the kids understand the University College is a new option, it’s a more applied pathway. It’s not a low or no ATAR option. However, we can accept students with no ATAR.
Q: What partnerships have you got with TasTAFE?
We need to map those other VET qualifications coming into associate degrees so those skills and knowledge won’t be lost. It’s not a straightforward process. We don’t see ourselves as necessarily competition to VET offerings.
Tasmania has a population of 500,000 people, there isn’t room to fight over the same students. I believe it is one front door and students choose what’s right for them, but we need to make sure they land in the right place. We want to provide that next stepping stone.
Q: Is there crossover between what the University College offers and what TasTAFE and other VET providers offer?
A: Yes, there is. They offer diplomas and advanced diplomas. But what we would like to see is that if TAFE doesn’t offer the advanced diploma we can provide a pathway into an associate degree.
Clearly, there is an option, what we need to do is to help the student to make the decision that’s right for them. It’s about a continuum of education, students will enter and exit, then again.
Q: Does the University College support people who are already in the workforce?
A: It’s a really good combination if you’re working in the field you’re studying in because you are doing work-integrated learning. It’s important that the graduates are job-ready.
Q: How will the University College benefit the North and more regional areas?
A: If you live in Scottsdale and you can’t get into a campus every day, or you don’t want to, the college offers flexible delivery, you can study at night or on the weekend.
It’s beneficial to attend the workshops though because you can meet and network with other students. I think it will benefit because it’s important that we have offerings that don’t require the student to move.