24/09/2008 - 22:00

Future framework the foundation for a workforce battle

24/09/2008 - 22:00


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A WAR for talent is being waged on a global scale. Businesses are battling to capture the minds and hearts of talented individuals, not just for the jobs of today, but also for the jobs of the future.

A WAR for talent is being waged on a global scale. Businesses are battling to capture the minds and hearts of talented individuals, not just for the jobs of today, but also for the jobs of the future.

Tomorrow's workforce will increasingly be shaped by new industries, new sources of knowledge and new international contexts. Australia will need graduates with flexibility, intellectual breadth, a global perspective, and a stronger range of skills.

Western Australia, because of its export orientation, is perhaps more exposed to global forces than any other state in the nation. More than ever before, most people will change jobs many times during their working life.

The new entrepreneurs and employees are going to need broad capacities for critical thinking, an intelligent grasp of social change, and the ability to work successfully in a world of cross-cultural encounters.

Employers, recognising this move towards greater versatility and mobility, are competing fiercely for the best-educated graduates. More and more employers are becoming intimately involved in tertiary education - funding scholarships, investing in university research, providing significant financial assistance into university courses and infrastructure, and supporting continued education for employees.

By any measure The University of Western Australia is a major resource for WA in meeting the challenges of the 21st century. As vice-chancellor Alan Robson has argued, behind every leading economy is a leading university.

To keep pace with the new operating environments, leading universities around the world have been refreshing their course offerings, focusing on the kinds of skills and knowledge graduates need for a world of global forces and rapid change.

So it is in our own part of the world, where UWA has recently released the final recommendations of a 'once in a generation' review of course structures. The report is available at www.coursestructuresreview.uwa.edu.au

If implemented, these changes and the recommended UWA 'Future Framework' will equip our future graduates - even better than now - with the capacity to become industry and community leaders within this state, the nation and the international community.

The two-year review process began with a detailed discussion paper and a thorough consultative process within and outside the campus. This led to an issues and options paper, which was the basis for further consultations and research. Business groups and professional bodies have been among the many contributors of information and ideas.

Now the review process has culminated in a report that includes a set of far-reaching recommendations for a UWA Future Framework for its courses. The university will debate these over the coming weeks before making its final decisions.

The objectives of the review were to meet the future educational needs of students and the wider community at the highest standard, to reinforce UWA's international reputation for a commitment to excellence, and to achieve efficiency and effectiveness in teaching and related administrative arrangements. We believe that in accomplishing these objectives we can contribute materially to the competitiveness of WA and to Perth's reputation as a city of global significance.

What we have proposed is a simple and flexible framework to replace the current unduly complex and restrictive structure.

Every undergraduate would be enrolled in one of six courses. Five of these correspond to a fundamental area of knowledge and would require three years of full-time study. The sixth one, for the most outstanding students, would be a four-year research-intensive course leading to a bachelor of philosophy (honours) degree. It would include a period of supported study abroad.

The other five degrees proposed within this new structure are a bachelor of science, bachelor of arts, bachelor of commerce, bachelor of health, and bachelor of design. An additional honours year would be available in each case.

It is important to emphasise that UWA still intends to cover all the fields of study that it offers at present, but in different forms. For example, courses leading to professional accreditation will normally be offered only at postgraduate level - so medicine, dentistry, law, and engineering become postgraduate courses.

We envisage that all undergraduate degrees will contain certain components to ensure our graduates are educated, enquiring, eloquent and engaged.

These components will require them to undertake four broadening units, including studies in cultural diversity, as well as research skills development, communication skills development and community service. We also intend to provide students with increased opportunities to study abroad.

Suitably qualified students may be offered assured entry to their postgraduate professional course at the point of initial enrolment as an undergraduate. Others may apply for a postgraduate place after their bachelor degree. Combined bachelor-level courses, sometimes called double degrees, will be replaced by sequential undergraduate/postgraduate pathways.

Together these changes will, we believe, make UWA graduates more competitive within the local and global job markets. In some cases it will take a little longer to achieve a professional qualification, but for most students the time commitment will be the same or similar, and the product far better.

UWA graduates are already the most employable in WA, with a very high proportion obtaining employment on graduation. The new arrangements will strengthen that performance and extend their employability.

If the university adopts these recommendations, implementation of some measures - such as unit reduction and expansion of postgraduate coursework - could proceed expeditiously, but the major change of course structures would not take effect until 2012, giving us time to make the transition smoothly and giving secondary schools and prospective students sufficient advance notice also. Students who enrol in 2009, 2010, or 2011 will be able to complete the degrees for which they enrol without disruption.

The proposed changes can bring large benefits. One of these is that UWA graduates, in addition to achieving mastery of their chosen discipline, will acquire a broader range of knowledge and attributes to help them navigate the changing world of the 21st century. This will significantly support our state's strategic position in the war for talent.

Another benefit is that the reshaped relationship between undergraduate and postgraduate courses in professional fields will equip students far better to make a considered choice about their preferred vocational or academic specialisation, and give them a more rounded preparation for their professional careers.

The simpler, more flexible and more consistent framework for courses will better serve the interests of students, staff and other stakeholders.

If all these changes go ahead they will comprise a distinctive set of reforms that integrate UWA's strength as a research-intensive institution with a commitment to high-quality student-centred teaching. They will help us to produce outstanding graduates who are superbly well prepared for tomorrow's world and can make a huge contribution to the social and economic development of WA.

- Don Markwell is deputy vice-chancellor (education) at UWA


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