Posted: 16 Aug. 2021

Australia’s higher education sector will emerge stronger after the pandemic

Speaking at the opening of the AFR Higher Education Summit today, I made the case that the sector has shown strength in facing adversity, and delivered some great outcomes in doing so. Decisions made in next 18 months will be chart a course to future success in the face of a series of five prevailing imperatives.

Deloitte is proud to be partnering with the AFR on its Summit series – and we are particularly proud of the association we have enjoyed with this event. This Higher Education Summit has served as a powerful vehicle to share perspectives, interrogate thinking and to explore responses to some of the sector’s biggest opportunities and most pressing challenges.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of all of Australia’s land, air, and waterways, and extend my respects to all their elders, past and present as well as all First Nations people joining us today. Being able to reference the world’s oldest, continuous culture in a virtual event on Higher Education reminds me that Australia has always been a country where learning and teaching sits at the heart of our identity.

Our world is changing, our nation is changing, and Higher Education is changing with it. And we are a country built for adaptation because we have strong, ancient roots into country cared for over millennia and never ceded.

Colette Rogers speaking at the AFR Higher Education Summit 2021

In my view, there is no doubt that Australia’s higher education sector will emerge from the pandemic stronger than it went into it, due to the decisions made by you - the universities - in the last 18 months

  • Universities responded rapidly and at a scale with the transition from the campus to online
  • As a further sign of universities’ ability to adapt to online learning, offshore enrolments were 75% higher in March 2021 than March 2020
  • Connections with industry partners in local and regional communities were strengthened – from forestry in Lismore; to fishing and aquaculture in Southern Tasmania; advanced manufacturing in central Victoria; defence and aerospace in Western Sydney and Newcastle; and Health in New England – these are just a small selection of the efforts underway
  • And we cannot forget the role of university researchers in combatting COVID-19
  • Behind the scenes, universities re-prioritised investments, and made difficult decisions to reshape their workforces
  • Despite all the pressures, universities upped their focus on access and equity, supporting their communities through excellence in teaching and learning.

We have seen that adversity is not without opportunity.

We got a lot right.

It is the decisions over the coming 18 months – as we look and hope to turn the corner in society’s battle with COVID-19 – that stand to be the most significant.  These decisions will chart a course to future success in the face of a series of prevailing imperatives.

  • The imperative - to compete and diversify in an international education landscape that has radically shifted
  • The imperative - to continue to adapt and respond to the changing skills needs of the Australian and global economy
  • The imperative - to put research and innovation at the centre of our economic and social recovery
  • The imperative - to manage risk without compromising on ambition and aspiration
  • And the imperative - to lead decisively and courageously as we emerge from uncertainty and into a new future – and our ability to shape it – becomes clearer. 

In the last 18 months we have done a lot of things because we had to. I put it to you, there is the imperative now to be bold – and this Summit will inspire you!

More about the author

Colette Rogers

Colette Rogers

Partner, Consulting

Colette leads our national education practice. Colette has worked with Universities and TAFE institutes on a range of complex programs and initiatives in response to strategic change and policy reform impacting the sector. She has led the redesign and implementation of service delivery models that have enhanced the customer experience and improved the efficiency of operational processes and supporting structures including governance arrangements.