“The world of the future is not so fixated on degrees. Employers actually want skills and confidence,” says Professor Pascale Quester. “We’re more into developing skills rather than transferring knowledge.”

The universities of today are “not in the content business”, continues Quester, who is the University of Adelaide’s Vice President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. “The internet does that much better”.

This position sees the ancient role of universities change as organisations modernise and cope with the internet age, she tells GovInsider.

The role that industry plays

To cultivate fighting-fit future graduates, the university is turning to future employers: industry. For instance, Quester is working with Dassault Systèmes to integrate 3D simulation platforms that are used by the defence sector into the curriculum.

The point is to work hand-in-hand to produce well-rounded graduates. The university helps them acquire useful skills, while companies test these skills against current problems in the economy – ensuring that students stay relevant, Quester shares. “It’s a much more collaborative long-term partnership, and within that picture the student is the key.”

Say that these requirements change, graduates can always come back to university, as learning is a continuous cycle throughout their lifetime, she adds. And moving forward, “our priority is going to be very much building more of these industry collaborations”.

The market for new skills

South Australia is undergoing major changes economically, with manufacturing jobs being cut and the digital economy on the rise. What this means is that the South Australian graduate of the future should ideally be analytical, critical, agile and comfortable with large amounts of data, Quester says. “We can tell them what the problems will be in 20 years’ time, but we can’t tell them the best way to get to a solution,” she points out.

“We can tell them what the problems will be in 20 years’ time, but we can’t tell them the best way to get to a solution.”

Future graduates should also possess “intercultural competence”, Quester says. One of the ways that the university is doing this is by sending students on study abroad arrangements. Their experiences will likely make them more employable, she notes: “They would have demonstrated that they can comfortably operate and be efficient in a different cultural setting to the one that they are most familiar with.”

Analysing the student body

The university is exploring the use of learner analytics, which provides lecturers with real-time feedback about students. This technology enables “an immediate feedback loop”, showing whether students are meeting learning outcomes, and allowing educators to adapt their curriculums accordingly, Quester says.

“This is, for us, quite an innovative way of learning – to teach not from what we remember being taught, but from what we can see the impact is on our students,” Quester explains, adding that the university can now “customise what can otherwise be a large-scale and anonymous student experience”.

This way, educators can easily identify for themselves how their students are progressing and if they are engaging with the material. For example, if half of their class is failing an assessment, then “they can go back to that material and see what went wrong”.

Similarly, analytics can show if students are dropping out at a particular point in the course or have stopped looking at material online, allowing for intervention. Staff would be able to identify if this behaviour was because of an academic, personal or financial problem, and provide support, Quester continues.

“We have the capacity to learn to treat our classrooms as labs in which we can test different types of things that we do in order to ensure that we maximise the success of the students,” she says.

Today, knowledge takes a backseat as skills come to the fore. Universities will have to come on board to help students prepare for whatever the future throws at them.