Tuesday, October 22, 2019 | ePaper

Education Innovation in Australia

Universities are at forefront of academic reform

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Campus Desk :
Australian universities pride themselves for being at the forefront of education reform and innovation. It's not just the technology available in lecture halls, laboratories and tutorial classes - it's how they structure courses and subjects to provide students with strong learning outcomes and skills which relate to the way people work.
For international students, completing a degree in Australia is an opportunity to gain a higher education experience unlike anywhere else in the world.
Some international students who come to Australia to complete an engineering course may do more than further their knowledge in photovoltaics or chemical structures. Many get the chance to explore other passions and learn more about artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship and even social media.
Other students might choose to unlock the future by doing a world-first transdisciplinary degree covering creative intelligence and innovation.
Tim Laurence, who is Dean of Studies at higher education pathway UTS Insearch, says international students also come to Australia for a unique cultural experience.
"Part of the Australian way of education is developing students' abilities to think and process information and make decisions using the same models that successful Western businesses use [to innovate]," Laurence says. "It might open their eyes to [different] ways of doing things that are possibly more entrepreneurial, more flexible and more innovative."
Moreover, this Australian approach has consistently aimed to make Australian education more accessible to people all around the world. According to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), Australia has always been at the forefront of innovative solutions in the tertiary education sector. Distance education programs - such as Open Universities Australia - and Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providers were created to help students who could not study on campus. On an even more practical level, institutions around the country provide powerful digital learning tools for students to perform better and connect with educators and peers - over and above their unique classroom training.
While MOOC is an option, in-country and in-person education is still, by far, the first preference of most. Australian universities have invested heavily in technology for education and custom-designing campuses to meet students' needs. Laurence, however, says making better use of learning-support technology is not the only way Australian universities are showing innovative thinking.
Australian university pioneers have also developed pathway programs as an alternative for students embarking on their first year of university. Unlike vocational education and training (VET) courses, the pathways system allows for quality eight-month, 12-month and 16-month programs that specifically prepare students for university.
UTS Insearch, for instance, offers higher education courses that count towards their bachelor degree - with many courses undertaken at UTS Insearch equating to the first year of study at UTS. Universities around the world have now embraced these programs, which were pioneered in Australia.
"Pathway programs are ideal for international students coming from very different educational cultures."
"They offer the first year of the university program delivered in a slightly different way than a university would, so students are gradually adapted to a way of working, a way of thinking and a way of doing they're not [previously] used to."
One of the key advantages for students embarking on a pathway program is they can advance their language skills while completing their diploma coursework. "As they are doing their assignments, they have language and literary staff working with them to develop syntax, and help them develop methodologies for creating high-quality essays or reports, giving verbal presentations or engaging in debates and discussions," Laurence says.
Extra support during these diplomas are ultimately designed to ensure students are successful in their chosen degree. "By the time they finish their diploma, they are far more confident in an academic context as well as being able to collaborate and stand out as a strong student," Laurence says.
Australian universities are adapting to student needs through moving to more flexible trimesters and offering innovative course structures, says International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood. He says Australia's higher education institutions have made a concerted effort to redesign curricula to appeal to international students.
Australian universities are also looking to offer courses not available elsewhere. The Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation at UTS, for example, is part of a combined degree encompassing critical and creative thinking, invention, complexity, scenario building and entrepreneurship. It encourages students to work in teams to think conceptually and solve problems across and between disciplines.
Honeywood says students also want universities to offer mobility. "Many Australian universities send their international students on short-term - or one semester - study opportunities in third countries," he says. "So initially you might come from China, but you can be offered a placement in New York City [by your university] through [its] university partnerships."
Laurence says UTS uses face-to-face time to explain, debate and share ideas and collaborate. "We want our students to be on campus to build friendships, social networks and develop their non-key knowledge abilities to succeed as learners, but also in the business world," he says. "That's something you just can't do online."
Laurence says UTS has developed an innovative Model of Learning framework that determines how students learn. It wants graduates with practical knowledge and an international perspective who are inspired by research. The university's associated "learning.futures" strategy, which aligns a forward-looking curriculum with informed technology use, puts students at the centre of the education experience.
"The thing that differentiates us is we have a reasonably large amount of face-to-face contact between students and teachers," he says. "That's very important in that transition from your home to an international university - being known and not being alone."
Studying at the University of Technology Sydney means choosing forward-thinking education. Learning practical skills through innovative programs, developing an entrepreneurial mindset and embracing modern teaching and learning styles at UTS and its pathway, UTS Insearch, prepares students for a very bright future.
The best education
Just as the circumstances of each student heading to an overseas university are unique, so too is their need for a tailored higher education experience - one that considers their academic, personal and social self. Getting the whole-of-student experience right not only helps students successfully transition into life in another country, it helps them to thrive, both academically and emotionally.
Making the leap from high school to university is an important step in a young person's life. There's a lot to consider, from career goals and courses of study to managing day-to-day living and making the most of campus life. When that leap involves leaving home to study overseas, the significance of the step - and the importance of choosing the right university to place it in - becomes even bigger.
Students travel from all over the world to study at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), says Patty Norden, one of seven Study Success Advisor at UTS Insearch, a service specially designed to help students successfully transition from high school to university.
 "My [objective] is to support students with whatever they need to settle in and thrive," Norden says. "That might mean academic support, that might be social support or introductions, that might be a referral to a professional who can give them specialist help."
Tailoring the curriculum to students' needs
Norden's ethnic background is Nepalese, she was raised in India and has a husband with a Bengali background, so she is well-placed to understand the unique challenges students from overseas - particularly those from Indian subcontinent countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal - often face.
"Many students from the subcontinent [that study abroad] come from an English [educational] background, so their language skills are usually very good," Norden says. "But the typical curriculum of a western university can be a real struggle."
Many education systems around the world use a form of teaching which involves direct instructions and more of a monologue from the teacher in class. "Whereas, here we're focused on group work, research, critical thinking and individual learning. That's where we come in," Norden says.
Pathway programs that cater to the varying needs of international students have become increasingly popular with parents looking to fast track their children's overseas education - and with good reason.
At UTS Insearch, there are a number of courses, designed in consultation with the corresponding faculty at UTS; there are general and academic English language programs, a UTS Foundation Studies program that is equivalent to Year 12 , and specialised higher education programs. In many cases, these programs lead to the second year of an undergraduate degree across six disciplines at UTS in areas such as business, communication, design and architecture, engineering, information technology and science.
Twice-weekly workshops on topics such as study planning, time management, active listening, and exam revision and preparation enable students to rapidly upskill, and Study Success Advisors like Norden are there to support students every step of the way.
Connecting with others who have travelled the same path
Making sure there is plenty of face-to-face support for new arrivals is key to helping them settle in. Small classes, plenty of opportunities for one-on-one mentoring and study support ensure students have a personalised learning experience. It also gives international students the support they need to thrive socially and emotionally.
 "Our peer mentoring program is very popular," Norden says. "The peers are former UTS Insearch students who have moved on to undergraduate study at UTS, or who are about to finish.
"We pair new students with mentors, and they catch up a couple of times a week. We try to match students with mentors from different cultures, but of course if they request someone from their own home country, we try to accommodate that."
Students can also book as many one-on-one tutoring sessions as they need, where they receive one-on-one support with assignments, study techniques and subject-specific learning support.
A free counselling service is also on hand to ensure students' mental health needs are met.
Additionally, UTS Insearch holds weekly careers sessions designed to develop students' skills - from writing resumes to preparing for and navigating job interviews - offering a headstart for when the time comes to seek employment.
Living options and social activities to suit each student
"I remember when I was an international student [at another university], I didn't know what existed or where to go!" Norden says.
That's where Norden's team comes in. "We make sure we reach all our students by visiting them in class, sending them emails, advertising our events. We organise a thorough - and fun! - orientation week at the beginning of the semester. We're there to meet with them and help them settle in."
A busy activities calendar gives students plenty of opportunities to mingle with other students and make new friends. Options include clubs for different sports such as soccer and basketball, while movie nights also enable students to relax over shared interests.
"We also take care to celebrate festivals from around the world," Norden says. "This helps students feel at home, and also helps them learn about each other's culture. Diwali is a big one for us - everybody dresses up."
A home away from home
Having a safe, secure and happy home to go back to after a busy day of study is important for all students. Some stay with relatives or homestay families, others make use of university accommodation, while more independent students pursue private rentals.
Moreover, UTS Insearch partners with specially run student accommodation for students under 18 years of age, ensuring younger students have a safe and happy place to stay close to university.
"We see students arrive shy and unsure of how to get started, and we help them find their place and make their way to undergraduate studies. It's very satisfying," Norden says.
Choosing international educational is both exciting and challenging. With innovative learning support, study success advisers and personal attention at UTS Insearch, the pathway to the University of Technology Sydney, offers an environment for students to thrive and succeed.

(Courtesy: BBC.com )

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