15/09/2020 - 16:02

Open borders to compete: uni leaders

15/09/2020 - 16:02

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The pandemic has cut through university bureaucracies, but sector leaders have stressed border openings are key for Australia to maintain its competitiveness in education.

Amit Chakma said the pandemic had reduced inefficiencies in university operations. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The pandemic has cut through university bureaucracies, but sector leaders have stressed border openings are key for Australia to maintain its competitiveness in education.

Post-COVID recovery was at the forefront of discussion among vice-chancellors of WA universities at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia event in Perth today.

Murdoch University vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen said borders needed to be opened soon because there will be strong demand from international students for Australian tertiary education institutions.

“We have a window of opportunity now,” Professor Leinonen said.

“We all want those borders to become open soon so that we can bring students back.”

Professor Leinonen said this was especially important in maintaining Australia’s competitive position in the sector, citing the UK, USA and Canada as alternative markets that are opening their borders in semester one next year.

“We need to think about ourselves in the global competitiveness context,” she said.

Curtin University vice-chancellor John Cordery echoed these sentiments, underscoring the importance of providing certainty to prospective international students.

“It is an opportunity that we risk letting pass us by if we don’t open the borders clearly and have a clear plan,” he said.

Professor Cordery also said that there would be unprecedented growth in demand from domestic students who were less likely to take a gap year.

The University of Notre Dame of Australia pro vice-chancellor Selma Alliex said agility and the ability to make timely decisions were emphasised during the pandemic.

“For a university that never had an online presence, we went online in 48 hours,” she said.

“This kind of strategy would normally take us five to eight years to implement.”

“If we have the right tools for our trade, we can make things happen.”

University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Amit Chakma agreed the pandemic had reduced inefficiencies in university operations.

“We are process-driven with too many layers…COVID allowed us to throw all those layers out,” he said.

Universities such as UWA used Zoom web meeting technology for tutorials and increased the amount of lectures recorded for online viewing during the pandemic.

Professor Chakma said that the shift to online delivery for some courses could not have happened if they had taken it through proper processes.  

“The opportunity and challenge for us is (to consider) how we maintain that ability to act quickly,” he said.

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