CAUL Leadership Institute 2012: "Driving Change"
Stamford Plaza Brisbane, 2-3 August 2012
Issues in higher education
Professor Jan Thomas, Vice-Chancellor and President, USQ
I was asked today to consider the big issues facing higher education into the future with a view to providing you with a context in which to consider what implications these will have for university libraries.
There are two particular themes to my presentation this morning. The first is that while change has been a constant feature of higher education for the past half century and more, it needs to be appreciated that the changes we’re expecting over the next 10-20 years will be monumental, they will create unique challenges and they will stretch us. This is not only because of the changes being experienced in higher education but also due to the economic and social changes in our society that have prompted these changes. Building on this, the second theme of my presentation will be to throw out a challenge to you all to think through what role you, as senior library staff and local leaders, will play in supporting your institutions to weather these changes successfully. I will leave time at the end of my presentation for questions and discussion.
But now, let us look at the dynamic future that we’ve entered in to.
The discussion of change in higher education has been going on for so long now that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve heard it all before. And, it is true that we’ve all experienced enormous and continual change during our careers in higher education.
Prior to world war II Australia had six elite sandstone universities teaching less than 20,000 students and sitting aloof from society. However, the war proved a watershed for Australia in a range of ways, including for higher education. This slide describes the major eras of change in Australian higher education since the time of World War II:
• Australia’s war experience prompted the government to build research capacity in universities which had previously been largely teaching institutions. This produced a strong culture for research in universities that has dominated the academic culture in Australia ever since.
• During the 1960s we saw a flurry of new universities and the creation of the College sector as a basis for expanding higher education opportunities. For the first time government began to care about universities as a basis for both building the social capital that society needed and as an avenue for social mobility.
• The creation of an efficient public TAFE sector in the 1970s replaced a very inefficient and neglected technical education system. Australia at that time could now boast old and new universities, numerous colleges of advanced education, well established Institutes of Technology in each capital city and a growing TAFE sector.
• The late 1980s saw the creation of a single university sector through mergers of former universities and colleges and the instigation of a formal plan for access and equity in higher education – the fabled Fair Chance for All.
• From that time we have seen gradual market deregulation as a basis for promoting quality and efficiency through competition and market forces but also increasing sector regulation and steering by government to position universities to support public policy. During the 1990s this gradual assault on institutional autonomy raised huge protests in Australian universities. These days it hardly raises a whimper.
• An accompanying change during the 1990s was the gradual rolling of pots of designated funding into a single operating grant. It is somewhat ironic that the government saw the provision of a one-line budget to universities as providing us with greater control over our own affairs – hence, in their mind, providing universities with more autonomy - but which they believed warranted the higher levels of public scrutiny and reporting that we in universities have invariably perceived as representing ever increasing levels of government regulation and a loss of autonomy.
• Finally, the funding squeeze by government has seen institutions become increasingly dependent on revenue from international education as a ready source of revenue.
International education has proven lucrative but the degree to which we have all become exposed was brought home dramatically in 2010 when a “perfect storm” of factors – including changes to visa regulations, a high Australian dollar and negative publicity involving international students in Australia broadcast in home nations - resulted in a decrease of 20% in international student enrolments over single
It is interesting to compare this situation with what has occurred over the last two decades in New Zealand, which strikes me as having undergone a not dissimilar journey to that in Australia but went through it far sooner, far more quickly and far more directly.
If I could quote from an OECD Review of Tertiary Education in New Zealand from 2008 – whose principal author Leo Goedegebuure is a good friend of mine:
If one thing characterises New Zealand’s tertiary education policy it is change [with] on average, a major review of tertiary education … every two years [since the late 1980s]. As has been the case in many countries, tertiary education reform is tied into more general public sector reform, which in New Zealand’s case has been combined with major macro-economic reform. Whilst the economy moved from a strongly regulated and protected economy to a liberalised market economy, the tertiary education sector transformed from an elite university system to a mass tertiary education system.
The report goes on to talk about the introduction of competition and private contributions since the 1990s aimed at broadening educational participation. It is clear that the catch-cries of market competition, student choice and sector diversity that are heard in Australian higher education today have been features for much longer in New Zealand. From 2000 an additional emphasis has been placed on government steering in an attempt to more closely align tertiary education with New Zealand socio-economic development. This drive culminated in the 2002-2007 Tertiary Education Strategy which “articulated key goals for New Zealand tertiary education and helped define how the system would give effect to the government’s vision and goals for New Zealand” as described here [in the slide]
So the move from elite to mass higher education; the use of market forces to drive efficiencies, quality and a service culture; and government steerage to position the tertiary sector to support government priorities in the country’s economic development have been clearly evident in both Australia and New Zealand.
Recent reforms in both countries have served to extend these trends to their natural conclusion.
In Australia, two major reviews reported in 2008 – the Review of Australian Higher Education chaired by Denise Bradley and the Review of the National Innovation System by Terry Cutler.
“Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System” was the government’s response to these reviews. I refer to it as change on steroids because it has both picked up on the trends that have been evident over the last few decades and pushed them home to their logical conclusion and also added a few more twists besides.
Some of the major elements of this reform package are listed here.
A further major step along the road to the deregulation of the student market has taken the form of the removal of enrolment quotas that had previously been in place to regulate university enrolments. From 2012, Australian universities are allowed to enrol as many domestic undergraduate students as they wish with a guarantee that the Commonwealth will fund the place. This move alone has significantly increased higher education enrolments through a combination of the pipeline of institutional over-enrolments in the years leading up to the removal of the caps as institutions positioned themselves to make the greatest benefits from the change; the willingness of Australian students to enrol during times of economic uncertainty (remembering that Australia has a two-speed economy and so many people’s experiences do not reflect the robust economic figures quoted by economists); the peace of mind afforded Australian undergraduate students by virtue of our HECS interest-free fees loans scheme; and the incentive for universities to accept all comers to raise their enrolment load as quickly as possible in anticipation that the cost to government will force the re-introduction of enrolment caps in the not-too-distant future.
Greater competition is also being promoted through amending regulatory requirements to support private and international providers operating in direct competition with universities. This is not a new phenomenon, and the barriers to starting up an operation in Australia remain considerable but the net effect of the government’s desire to increase competition and market pressures on universities to promote quality and efficiency has led to the prediction by well-placed analysts that some existing universities will eventually fail, merge or be absorbed into other institutions. This is the new reality.
So far, the government has not gone to the next logical step of deregulating student contributions to open the way for universities to compete on the basis of price. The precarious situation of Australia’s minority federal government has urged some continued restraint. However, there is strong lobbying, particularly by Australia’s oldest universities, for fee deregulation to take place – clearly with a view to using their prestige as a basis for significantly increasing their revenue from students – and it is likely that this next step will eventually be taken.
The picture in Australia then is of an intensely competitive student market with pressures on to increase costs to students and for a range of new competitors to enter the market.
There is no doubt that the ratchetting up of competition and the deregulation of the student market is having the effect of promoting very significant sector growth - and this, of course, is exactly what the government wants. Anticipating a demand for graduates in 2025 at a level equivalent to 40% of the population having attained a degree – in line with the expectations of our OECD competitors - the government has now set this as a sector target; as listed. This raised some criticism at the time as Australia’s economy – riding on the crest of a resources boom and described quite accurately as a “two-speed economy” – is currently structured very differently to the economies of other OECD countries. So the government’s target depends very much on a shift the Australian economy towards 21st century industries over the next decade-and-a-half.
A recent report by Access Economics predicted that Australia’s mining boom would peak in 2014 which would necessitate such a shift, and Australia’s manufacturing and low-tech industries are certainly in decline, but the jury is still out as to whether Australia’s easy ride on resources wealth will provide the impetus needed to propel us into developing an advanced economy by 2025. It is certainly the case that many potential students faced with the options of undertaking tertiary study or earning over $100,000 driving a truck for a west Queensland mining company, find the latter option hard to resist.
The fuel for the desired growth in Australia’s attainment rates was identified as the major group in society that is currently under-represented in higher education – being people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. Hence, a necessary corollary to the increased attainment target is a target for increasing the participation of this group. In practice, however, the process is less about SES than about universities broadening their student constituency and accepting responsibility for students who present as less well prepared for an undergraduate experience or who have not yet demonstrated skills as strong independent learners.
Undergraduate preparation and strength as an independent learner are, after all, the characteristics measured by Tertiary Entrance Ranks, and a low SES individual with a high TER will behave very similarly to anyone else with the same TER. Extending our consideration to students who present as under-prepared or as weak independent learners put additional demands on universities in terms of preparation, support and the need for flexibility; and a new industry has arisen in the deployment of programs in low SES schools that seek to raise the educational aspirations of students.
While the easing of entry standards into university may have been considered as an acceptable option as a part of this process – noting that it is the graduate exit standards that underpin the quality of an educational sector – this was not considered politically acceptable by the government which has insisted on entry standards being maintained. Hence, a great deal of emphasis has been given to securing a greater level of cooperation between education sectors – particularly university and TAFE – to secure improved pathways for students and an increased emphasis given to tertiary preparation programs to provide the opportunity for more students to reach entry standards into undergraduate programs.
The government is therefore promoting more collaboration across sectors – even as the TAFE sector in Victoria has moved to begin offering degrees in direct competition with universities - and for sector expansion based on the recruitment of students who are, by and large, more expensive to recruit, retain and support to graduation standard. As you will appreciate, this creates all manner of challenges for universities moving forward.
As is always the case, market deregulation has been accompanied by a greater level of public scrutiny on universities, increased reporting requirements and increased government regulation. There are two very visible signs of change in this regard:
• The Australian government has introduced the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, or TEQSA. This very powerful body has absorbed the former Australian Universities Quality Agency, or AUQA, and replaced its quality management approach to institutional audit by assessing the performance of universities against their own objectives, with an approach based on compliance with standards. TEQSA has also assumed the role of tertiary education regulator, with the power to discipline or even strip university status from universities who fail at audit – effectively reintroducing the notion of a college classification into the Australian tertiary sector.
• The government has also formalised its steerage of the sector through the introduction of so-called “individual compacts” between the government and each university with responsibilities specified and – in inverted commas – “agreed” institutional targets. A system of performance funding is just now being introduced to “reward” institutions who meet their targets, and by way of denying this additional funding, punishing those who do not.
Arising largely from the Cutler Review, the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative, and I quote, “assesses research quality within Australia’s higher education institutions using a combination of indicators and expert review by committees comprising experienced, internationally-recognised experts.” As has been the case since the end of World War II, university research and innovation features strongly in the government’s plans for Australia’s future.
However, where once the government would encourage, increasingly they now steer and, where they feel necessary, direct.
I mentioned earlier that as well as moving the government agenda for universities towards their logical conclusion, the latest reforms also introduced a few new twists.
One of these is the emergence of the notion of “localism”. The term is increasingly being used in the context of Australia’s regions and refers to the need for communities to come together to address issues of local importance – a version of community capacity building. The subtext, however, comes in the form of “governments cannot be expected to do everything”. Hence, promoting localism is becoming increasingly popular as a strategy for managing the expectations of communities, particularly in Australia’s vast regions, as we move increasingly into what is expected to be an extended period of fiscal constraint by government as a result of the global financial situation. Our Federal Regions Minister, Simon Crean, has made it very clear that he sees a major role for universities with a presence in the regions in supporting and participating in localism.
Again, it is interesting to compare Australia’s recent experience with sector reform to that in New Zealand.
The latest TES, for the period 2010-2015, lists priorities and goals that I can readily relate to as the Vice-Chancellor of an Australian university – as listed here.
Vision for tertiary Education
• Provide New Zealanders of all backgrounds with opportunities to gain world-class skills and knowledge
• Raise the skills and knowledge of the current and future workforce to meet labour market demand and social needs
• Produce high quality research to build New Zealand’s knowledge base, respond to the needs of the economy and address environmental and social challenges
• Enable Maori to enjoy education success as Maori
Priorities for next 3-5 years
• Increasing the number of young people (aged under 25) achieving qualifications at level 4 and above, particularly degrees
• Increasing the number of Maori students enjoying success at higher levels
• Increasing the number of Pasifika students achieving at high levels
• Increasing the number of young people moving successfully from school into tertiary education
• Improving the educational and financial performance of providers
• Strengthening research outcomes
References to the need of the current and future workforce, responding to the needs of the economy, addressing environmental and social challenges, increasing educational attainment with an emphasis on equity, and strengthening research outcomes. All feel very familiar.
So, to sum up, our experiences have mirrored similar trends overseas that have seen:
• massive sector expansion,
• a shift from elite to mass higher education,
• an ever increasing influence by government on institutional affairs as the importance of the role of universities in Australia’s economic and social development has become increasingly appreciated, and
• an increasing level of accountability and regulation on institutions even as market deregulation and competition have been used as a basis for promoting quality and efficiency.
In addition, we have seen relentless pressure on greater contributions by students and strategies to shift the burden of an expanding higher education system away from government.
From this perspective, the changes now being experienced as a result of the government response to the Bradley and Cutler Reviews in Australia or the latest New Zealand TES can be seen as a fairly natural progression of trends that have been underway for many decades; albeit with change occurring at an ever increasing rate.
So what is this future society that the governments of Australia and New Zealand are seeking to have tertiary education help prepare their countries for? Let’s look into the future and find out.
Of course it’s always necessary to be cautious when looking into the future so before we take this look forward, I’d just like to familiarise you with three important rules of futurism. The first is that we’re always basing our ideas on a set of particular assumptions for which there is some degree of uncertainty - so everything we say about the future needs to be qualified. Hence, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which has just released a whole series of wonderful analytical reports based on the latest census results, peppers its reports with statements such as the following:
… projections are not predictions or forecasts. They simply show what would happen … if a particular set of assumptions … were to hold for the next 50-100 years.
The ABS is staffed by particularly smart statisticians.
Secondly, it has generally been observed that futurists tend to underestimate the degree of change that will occur over the next two years and overestimate the degree of change over the next decade. I believe this simply reflects a natural human tendency to become more relaxed about speculating over longer periods of time when it becomes less likely that you’ll be bailed up if you get it wrong.
Also, we need to remind ourselves that while the possibilities might be endless, the probabilities are definitely finite, so all of our forward thinking needs to be strongly evidence-based and given a sound reality check - it’s always a good thing to pinch yourself hard whenever you’re involved in looking far into the future.
However, having said this, and acknowledging the need for caution, there is a growing consensus and a great deal of evidence to support the future scenarios that I’ll be presenting to you this morning.
Last year the Australian Academy of Social Sciences conducted a seminar involving experts from a wide range of fields to explore the Critical Issues Facing Australia to 2025. My next few slides list the influences they identified along with the major implications that these have for Australia in general and tertiary education in particular.
The first factor is, not unsurprisingly, the economic growth of China and India. We are becoming accustomed to referring to the 21st century as ‘The Asian Century’, but what we must appreciate is that what we are talking about here is not only the rise in influence of China and India as economic powerhouses but also an associated relative decline of the economic power and influence of Australia and other western nations.
What we are actually seeing is a return to situation that existed two or three centuries ago where the share of world output by Asian economies exceeded that in the western economies. Viewed in this way, the 19th century as the period of the Industrial Revolution and European colonialism and the 20th century as the period of the Technological Revolution and the American Century both appear as anomalous blips in the historical records.
It is estimated that Asian economies represented over 50% of the world output in 1820, and while their share of world output declined steadily to a low of around 10% in 1950, these economies will again be producing over half the world’s output by 2030.
From Asia’s perspective, it will have taken two centuries for the world to get back to normal and for us western upstarts to be put back in our place. From our perspective, this phenomenon can very accurately be described as a major game-changer.
A second major influence on Australia’s future will be the impact of global factors of which we have little control. We have already seen the global effects of the GFC, the extended economic woes in the European Union, and the now regular major bank scandals. No-one who pays any attention to the stock market or who is attuned to the sentiment of business will have any doubts that the world economic situation has changed significantly since 2007 and that global fiscal constraint is likely to be with us for another decade at least. Another game-changer.
In this regard, I sense that my colleagues here from New Zealand have a greater sense of what is coming. For example, I note a certain refreshing bluntness in the text of New Zealand’s latest TES, compared with the more circuitous dialogue favoured by Australia politicians. For example, under a section in the TES entitled: “How the priorities will be achieved” there is the following passage.
In a tight fiscal environment, the Government is unable to provide significant funding increases to meet the growing demand for tertiary education. We will need to move funding away from low-quality qualifications … to fund growth in high quality qualifications that benefit New Zealanders and contribute to economic growth.
Providers will need to manage costs, continue to seek efficiency gains, ensure the qualifications they offer best meet student and employer needs, and explore additional sources of revenue.
A key driver to improve the efficiency of public investment in tertiary education is to improve course and qualification completion rates.
The Government is committed to maintaining reasonable fees for students, but will explore ways of giving providers some additional flexibility to raise revenue.
And so it goes on. For staff here that are working in Australian universities, you have just heard your future!
A third major factor in influencing Australia’s future is its ageing population, which will see over the next decade-and-a-half our “baby boom” turn to “baby bust” as workers exit the workforce at a faster rate than they can be replaced by Generations X and Y. To quote from Bernard Salt, the resulting “demographic tilt” will:
... diminish the rate of growth of the tax base, slow the consumption base, reduce the demand for property and pose challenges for a generation who have never known anything but growth and expansion. In short, the party’s over!”
Game-changer number three. An immediate consequence of the baby bust which is something that keeps Vice-Chancellors awake at night is the prospect of a diminishing pool of qualified academics in the not-too-distant future – adding another element to the extreme competition we face of being able to recruit and retain the high quality staff we need to remain competitive.
A very useful insight for us baby boomers is Salt’s assertion that the party is over. If you think that my aim here is to forecast doom and gloom then you’re partly right, because there is a need for baby boomers like us to shake ourselves out of our comfortable smugness. We have lived through the good times and this has influenced our attitude to life but we need to quickly come to grips with the fact that we are now living through very serious times. It should come as no surprise to us that the party would be over at some time. There is no edict that stipulates that life has to be good.
We’re all familiar with descriptors such as ‘baby boomers’ used by the ABS to describe people born between 1946 and 1966, ‘Generation X and Y’ for 1966-1986 and iGeneration for post-1986; but did you know that ABS use the following descriptors for our forebear’s generations:
1886-1906 ‘Hard timers’
1906-1926 ‘Frugal generation’
1926-1946 ‘Silent generation’ – no doubt ‘silent’ because
they didn’t have too much to celebrate.
So life doesn’t have to be easy all of the time, and it appears that we’re entering into one of those eras where we have particular challenges to face.
Add to this the problems that Australia faces in terms of global warming, water and food security, energy and sustainable populations and it is clearly evident that Australia needs to significantly lift its game in all regards if it is to remain successful. Going forward, Australia needs more skilled people, improved productivity and improved capacity for innovation – and government policy of all political persuasions is now fully attuned to these needs, and full aware of the important role that tertiary education and research have to play.
This sentiment, which is deeply embedded in government thinking, was well articulated by Kevin Rudd at the launch of the Australia Awards Scholarship Scheme in 2011 where he described education as “... the building block of economies and the foundation stone of nations.”
In this same address he went on to state that:
Education will ... be the driving force of this 21st century – the century of relentless, restless driving globalisation. The century in which the only constant will be change itself.
The most educated, the most skilled, the best trained nations will also be the strongest nations and the most resilient economies of the 21st century.
As a second quote, and returning to our consideration of Australia’s current dependence on its mining boom - Peter Hartcher stated in his recent book entitled: The Sweet Spot:
If Australia is to have a golden future, it will not be gilded with the sort of gold that is discovered by digging deeper holes in the ground.
The necessary gold is not to be found in the country’s pits, but in its wits.”
So the take home messages from this slide – (a) tough times ahead and (b) an appreciation that there is a major role for tertiary education in building Australia’s future in realigning the economy towards 21st century industries.
Other influences on Australia’s future identified by the Academy of Social Sciences Forum in 2011 are important social drivers, including for participation and social inclusion, opportunities and challenges created by Australia’s growing cultural diversity, and the opportunities and challenges created by new and emerging technologies.
The appropriate response from higher education is to ensure the quality of teaching and learning while responding to the implications of an increasingly diverse student constituency - requiring flexible Learning & Teaching strategies – and changing skills needs in employment – requiring a service-driven and responsive culture.
This will not be news to anyone here. However, it is important to appreciate that from the nation’s perspective higher education does not represent the only priority here. Improved educational attainment is required at all levels.
This was an important insight I picked up from the 2011 Academy of Social Sciences Forum. For example, in considering educational needs to support innovation – which is the sort of discussion that often tends to concentrate on needs in terms of graduate skills and PhD attainment - the Forum reached the following conclusion:
Ongoing and incremental … [business] innovation will require a broad base of skills – including good language literacy and numeracy skills among the largest possible percentage of the working age population.
Innovation also requires many technical skills that do not require a university education, such as certificate level and vocational training.
Even within R&D, PhD graduates account for less than 15% of total employment, so the safest approach is to strengthen education in all science and engineering disciplines at all levels, while business management organisational skills are also essential.
This is a stunning conclusion for government in terms of appreciating the need for holistic approaches to building education systems rather than concentrating efforts on particular sectors or interests. Universities have a major role to play in supporting improved educational attainment across the board, but so do the other educational sectors – and we should never forget that.
The impact of emerging technologies is, of course pervasive on society as a whole and the impact at all levels – in terms of student behaviour, student expectations, and emerging strategies for all aspects of a universities’ operations are immense. A little more on this later.
Finally, The Forum naturally identified the behaviour of our governments as having a major influence on Australia’s future.
So let us re-cap on the changes we are currently experiencing in higher education.
SLIDE 11: Australian higher education
This is the situation we currently face.
• Deregulated market / Regulated institutions
• Increased intensity and diversity of market competition
– Domestically – take lessons from the experience of TAFE in Victoria
– Globally – transnational education continues to grow, Asia is a major focus
• Performance measurement linked to “agreed” goals – L&T, research
• Broadening of higher education participation and increase in attainment
• Greater responsiveness to changing skills needs
• Change in behaviour of students, employers, partners and workplace
• Aging baby-boomer workforce / Future competition for academic staff
• Vested interests seeking to “concentrate” research funding
• Greater public expectations with regard to engagement
• Overpromise by government – expectation of reneging on some reforms
The changes introduced by government all make sense from the government’s perspective – in terms of the important role it sees higher education taking in positioning the Australian economy for success in the 21st century, its desire to use market and competition as a basis for promoting efficiency and quality, its perceived need to closely monitor the sector to keep it honest, focussed and on-track. The challenges we face in terms of meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, and addressing government priorities that are becoming ever more demanding. And the issues we face in terms of future staffing, and the impact of emerging and evolving technologies – all come together to create an operating environment moving forward that is astoundingly complex and challenging!
To add to our challenge in a deregulated higher education market, growth must be achieved:
• in a marketplace which is more influenced by institutional prestige than by quality of product,
• where institutions are constrained in the business decisions they are able to make because of the influence of government policy,
• where sources of funding are likely to become harder to access,
• where the behaviour of students is rapidly changing – particularly as a result of the pervading influence of information and communication technologies on all of society – and
• where the needs of the employment market are also changing, including in ways that are not entirely predictable. Again quoting from the Futures Forum:
The type of skills required in the future will depend on technologies [typically yet to be developed] that offer substantial productivity enhanced benefits and new business opportunities.
However, as it is want to do, the government has designed its policy framework to put all of the burden and all of the risk on to Australian universities, while holding us accountable for achieving what are euphemistically referred to as “agreed goals” that meet the national interest.
Needless to say, the expectations are high and the challenges are great – and many universities are finding themselves exposed.
So much so, that as I have already mentioned, there is a general expectation that some existing Australian universities will fail – either requiring them to close down, to become something other than a university or to be obliged to merge into another organisation.
The need and the expectation, therefore, is that universities need to continue to lift their game – to become increasingly efficient, increasingly competitive and to exploit every strategy they have in their arsenal to the fullest to achieve sustainability and success.
And here is the crunch to my presentation. You all have a key role to play in ensuring the future sustainability and success of your institution. Ask yourself this question:
What leadership role can University Librarians play in influencing and driving our response to change?
When looking at the range of challenges universities face, it is clear that the role of the academic library, and indeed the role of librarians, will be critical to the solutions being found.
It is my belief that libraries represent the heart of a university. As we all work to educate leaders of the future and to solve the world’s problems through discovery and innovation, libraries are there to support and enable high quality outcomes. This support is at least threefold.
Firstly, access to current information wherever you are in the world and wherever the information is located is a base now expected in the knowledge economy.
Secondly, capacity and motivation to access and critique that information is necessary to ensure appropriate scholarly work.
Finally, personal support and physical space to create knowledge from that information are all front and centre in library functions.
There is a thirst for information that is difficult to quench - from the first year student to the most senior of research professors. Libraries and their library staff are well known for their capacity to meet the needs of all user groups - often under the radar - but always there.
Like the heart in our chest – we don’t always think about it, yet at every moment, its functioning is vital to our ongoing success.
We live in an age of convergence – with technology driving connections that link people and ideas in unprecedented ways. The Library’s role has always been to provide a platform for research, study, social activity and that will not change, but the services provided will constantly shift in this dynamic environment. Bourg stated that:
We think of the library as a hybrid environment that consists of physical spaces, people, and objects; as well as a digital entity that provides online access to digital resources, services and tools, But the truth is that technology has simply provided libraries with new ways to fulfil our age-old mission of collecting, preserving, organizing and providing meaningful access to information in support of teaching and research.
The Library, and the expertise vested within it, must continue to both lead and adapt to face the challenges posed by our information-intensive age. Over the next five years, we should continue to develop our digital collections, and safeguard the knowledge legacies of the past, while ensuring accessibility for the future. We should harness new tools for information creation and discovery, and configure our services and spaces to meet our users’ needs.
Our vision is of a library that supports the strengths of our University, one that promotes critical inquiry and provides access to the intellectual resources required for excellence in study and research for faculty and students at all levels. A great library equips scholars with the best insight, students with the best access, and general campus users with widely distributed intellectual resources without regard to their format or location in the world.
I urge you to take a leadership role in your universities moving forward. University Librarians have always played a leadership role in the past in transitioning library services to meet changing environment and policy; especially around technology and information management policy. But there is much more for you to do in the future. I don’t want to tell you your business, but here are a few of the issues that I, as a Vice-Chancellor, would be looking to library specialists for solutions:
Some questions to be asked
• In an environment of bottomless information repositories and where students have more ready access to information not prescribed in the curriculum; how can we manage OERs effectively to maintain high quality teaching and avoid problems such as plagiarism. How do we convince emerging generations that all information is not equal, and teach them to be critical and judge their sources? How do we utilise the capacity now available to access and create content to support learning that is unshackled by time, location and expertise?
• How do we face the enormous challenges in maintaining print collections and services where they are still necessary, while simultaneously developing strategies for collecting, preserving, organizing, and providing access to digital objects. Are we at risk of losing big chunks of our cultural record because of a lack of funding for digital collecting and preservation?
• How do we tackle the growing pace of change? A quick look through latest The Horizon Report tells us that augmented reality and games-based learning are just two years from adoption; gesture-based computing and learning analytics just four years from adoption. The technologies we are using are increasingly cloud-based. The world of work is increasingly collaborative. At all levels change is making us continually revisit our roles as educators and obliging us to adapt. How do we keep up with this enormous pace of change, particularly as resources become tighter?
• How do we revolutionise libraries with social media? How can libraries utilize these virtual worlds to offer a more customer-driven, socially rich and collaborative model of service and content delivery?
(I note that the National Library of Australia embraces social media as a community-building tool and for corporate communications – and adopted a social media policy in December 2010. )
• More broadly, how will libraries manage the expectations of students shaped by their experiences in the service and media economy - with its emphasis on "instant gratification". Students who place an emphasis on service shaped by speed, convenience, and customization. I expect that keeping pace with both technologies, access and services to support them will be critical. How, for example, will you offer an experience that has the simplicity of Google—which users expect—while enabling students to search the library’s rich digital and print collections—which is what users need?
• How do we support research; particularly in terms of meeting the needs of faculty for more sophisticated research resources?
How do we balance the transition to open access for research publications given that existing interests in traditional publication models will inevitably mean that a mixture of subscription and open-access journals will co-exist for a number of years. On this point I note that in the UK the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings chaired by Dame Janet Finch has recently recommended has recommended a policy direction favouring “gold” open access, in which authors pay upfront to make their papers publicly available as opposed to the more radical “green” open access model in which authors self-archive papers in open access repositories .
I can’t resist making a plug here for my own institution which has done great work in developing repository models.
• What qualifications are required of library staff and what involvement will professional staff in scholarship into the future?
• What will a library even look like in the future? Sarah Thomas, the director of Oxford University Library Services predicted that the following will become obsolete in the next few years “Getting lost; house keys; ugliness; cosmetic surgery – and libraries”.
She said that “physical libraries will serve as destinations for people who wish to engage with other people and artefacts in the pursuit of understanding”; but noted that “technology makes it possible for almost anywhere to become a library.”
These are no doubt the kinds of issues that will fill your discussions over the next few days.
I wish to close with a quote from the President of CAUL and the distinguished chair of this session, Cathrine Harboe-Ree:
“Where in the past libraries have been caretakers, in the future they must be guides and teachers”
I couldn’t agree more. I would add also that you must continue to accept your roles as innovators and leaders. Library Managers need to provide leadership and guidance on issues surrounding the changes we are experiencing and in the process you will play a major role in assisting your institutions to weather these changes successfully and productively.
I’ll leave these thoughts with you.
Tell a friend!