Cash on delivery - new funding model for Australian Universities

A new performance-based funding model for universities in Australia will take into account graduate employment outcomes, student success, student experience and participation rates of Indigenous and low-socioeconomic status students.  

No jobs locally?

A few weeks ago I was saddened to watch a video interview with a recent Environmental Science graduate from a regional university. She commented that only one person from her graduating class – and none from the year below – had secured a job in the environmental science sector. If accurate, this is a real loss for the students and university and for the local and national business community that would have benefited from the input and energy of these new graduates.  

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Experience and opportunities

I have been involved with universities for over 20 years and welcome any initiative to drive more positive outcomes for both students and universities. I worked as a staff member at the Robert Gordon University in Scotland and saw the benefits of an emphasis on Work Integrated Learning that contributed to the university regularly being ranked as one of the top universities in the UK for graduate employment. I was also the co-founder and CEO of Yellowbrick Training & Development which ran graduate recruitment and training programs for SMEs and many of the world’s top businesses in the UK and North America.

More recently, I was the founding CEO of the Innovation Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast and my ten-year stint there helped me understand the issues and many opportunities for regional universities. Many regions have outstanding SMEs working on national and international projects but they are not highly visible in the region and many university staff and students may not even be aware of them or connected to them.

Private sector providers moving quickly

Internationally, there has been a growth in short, practical and industry focused courses. Private sector providers such as New York based General Assembly pitch themselves as ‘the future of work’ and offer ‘expert-led training in coding, data, design, digital marketing, and more — on campus and online.’ Many of these providers promote their employer connections and high employment rates in well-paid positions.  

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Lambda School promotes ‘Higher learning, Higher Earning.’ They offer online classes and one-on-one mentoring over a nine-month period and students do not have to pay any fees until they secure a well-paid job. This business model puts the emphasis on the school teaching industry relevant content and then doing everything possible to help the students find a job - the school does not get paid until they do.

Today’s fast moving economy demands people with high level and relevant skills, including technology skills, able to make an early contribution. Students have more options for learning than ever before and they can tap into online courses from universities and private providers. Universities will face increasing competitive pressures and - in my opinion - students and employers will naturally question the value of 3-year degrees that do not deliver solid employment outcomes.

Students at the University of the Sunshine Coast

Students at the University of the Sunshine Coast

Regional universities - understanding the regional economy

Regional universities are often based in economies dominated by SMEs with few larger companies – sometimes seen as more traditional graduate employers. This context needs a different approach to big cities but there are still many opportunities to boost graduate employment in the local region - and beyond.  

Example: SMEs by size, Sunshine Coast, Australia

Example: SMEs by size, Sunshine Coast, Australia

The biggest priority is to understand how the local economy works, typically 60% plus of local businesses will be non-employing and hence there is a need to proactively identify and understand the direction and needs of other small business sectors. The diagram above shows the breakdown of businesses by size for the Sunshine Coast region, this pattern is typical for most of Australia.

In a region with 35,000 businesses there might be 10% or 3,500 to prioritise, It’s vital to identify these businesses and their key people - a good Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) is key - and to understand their business direction and needs and to progressively build a productive relationship with them.

Efforts to boost graduate employment do not start at the graduation ceremony, they need to start from day one of the student experience – or earlier. The Environmental Science graduate I mentioned earlier should be exposed to every significant environmental business in the region – and many from beyond the region – over the course of three years through work integrated learning and work experience and selecting the most relevant courses will make help make them much more employable. Some graduates will have the drive, confidence, skills and abilities to employ themselves and others and they can be supported through student entrepreneurship initiatives. 

The move to partly fund Australian Universities based on graduate employment outcomes - if well designed and implemented – is a positive step and there are real opportunities for this policy change to benefit students, universities and regions.

Colin Graham, Causeway Innovation, 8 Aug 2019





 

 

Colin Graham