By: Michael Vogt, Human Resources Director - Medicine, University of Melbourne

Posted on 20 Nov 2015

Australia’s higher education sector is no stranger to change. Just as well, because there’s plenty more on the horizon. And the impact on people, and therefore HR, is significant. Michael Vogt, HRD Medicine at the University of Melbourne, brings a diverse mix of private and public sector HR expertise to the bare on the challenge.

Two big forces jolting the higher education sector are globalisation and technology

“Two big forces jolting the higher education sector in Australia are globalisation and technology,” he says, “and they are transformational in their impact.” Globalisation is having an effect on both the teaching and research functions in universities – from how they are funded to how programs are implemented.

“Our student base is becoming increasingly global – international students make up a significant proportion of the yearly intake and have become an important source of funding for Australian universities.”

The plethora of online academic content and tertiary curricula also forces Australian universities to rethink the engagement proposition for both online and campus students. Technology has changed the game for personal and professional learning. “Tertiary students still value university credentials and qualifications but they are demanding flexible delivery systems and self-paced programs,” reflects Michael.

You could forgive academics for being somewhat shell-shocked at the rate and scale of change. Until recently, the pursuit of an academic career had a fairly clear trajectory: you completed your undergraduate studies, then post-graduate and doctoral programs and typically moved into employment at the university in a post doctoral capacity, teaching or researching or both. It was a lifetime career path.

We have to look at more flexible contracts and we are increasingly turning to global mobility.

But with the crunch on government funding, such stable and predictable pathways are disappearing. “Only around 10% of Type 1 research grant applications are successful these days,” notes Michael, “so academic aspirants cannot assume the tenure and security that have been a feature of employment in the higher education sector in the past. We have to look at more flexible contracts and we are increasingly turning to global mobility.”

In contrast to the U.S. model of higher education funding, in which the corporate sector plays a significant role, the government-funded Australian tertiary sector is much less commercially oriented. “We don’t have anything like the level of corporate investment in our universities that exists in the U.S.”, notes Michael, “where as much as 40% of research is commercially funded.” From the historical commitments of John D. Rockefeller to modern day philanthropists like Bill Gates, research institutes in America enjoy significant levels of private funding that draws in great academic talent from around the world.

“The U.S. model has its benefits,” agrees Michael, “but the culture and philosophy of Australian tertiary institutions has always been more academic. Take for example R&D in pharmaceutical research where each stage is gated with go/no-go criteria, many of which focus on the likelihood of successful commercialisation of a drug. If the stage doesn’t get through the gate, the project is abandoned. Compare that approach to Australian R&D, which has a longer-term focus and where success is not measured by commercial viability alone.

To attract and retain the world’s best academic talent, we need to demonstrate our employment value proposition

It all has a big impact on talent. Moves to increase accountability and performance in the system may not be particularly popular, but they are fast becoming a reality in today’s globalised higher education sector. “Global university rankings are forcing institutions to put in place mechanisms that promote and reward high performance. Like every other sector, we compete for great talent – to attract and retain the world’s best academic talent, we need to demonstrate our employment value proposition, part of which is being recognised as a leading global institution”, says Michael. In order to do that, performance metrics at a faculty, departmental and individual level are necessary to quantify performance outcomes.

Disruption continues to be a feature of the higher education landscape. With the megatrends of globalisation and technology already rocking the paradigms underpinning the tertiary sector, what shape will the future take?

About The Author

Michael Vogt
Human Resources Director - Medicine, University of Melbourne

Michael has over 13 years experience in human resource through numerous senior human resource roles. Prior to joining the University of Melbourne as Human Resource Director in 2014, Michael was Head of People of National Bank of Australia, in senior human resources positions at GSK Pharmacies and Ecowise Environmental.

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