EY predicts an end to the traditional uni campus in Australia

26 August 2021 Consultancy.com.au 3 min. read
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In a new report on Australia’s higher education sector from EY, a number of converging factors have led the professional services firm to predict a coming end to the traditional university campus.

Hastened by Covid-19 amid a world of ongoing digital disruption, a new report from professional services firm Ernst & Young has predicted the rapid demise of the traditional university campus in Australia, with student numbers unlikely to return to their previousheights. The ‘Peak of Higher Education’ report is based on market research and close to three dozen interviews with vice chancellors and experts from across Australia and New Zealand.

Led by the University of Melbourne at 33rd on the list, Australia is home to seven of the world’s top 100 ranked universities according to the recent 2021 Academic Ranking of World Universities. But after weathering a torrid past year with widespread layoffs and the shut-out of international students, EY’s report forecasts that the nation’s higher education institutes could be facing a further $6 billion downfall in revenues before the end of the decade.

Is online making the uni campus obsolete?

“Our universities cannot rely on ever increasing inflows of domestic and international students to pay the bills, with student levels unlikely to return to 2019 levels as the sector continues to reel from the pandemic,” said EY’s Global Head of Education, Catherine Friday, who authored the report. “Covid-19 completely exposed the over-reliance on on-campus learning and international students in Australia’s higher education system.”

Like numerous other sectors, the predicted demise of the traditional university model is based on a number of converging factors, not least of which is the digital revolution. “In a world of ‘work from anywhere’, people also want to learn from anywhere,” so begins the report. “The pandemic proved that, while universities have been with us for centuries, they are not immune to the business reinvention that is taking down giants in media, automobiles and energy.”

According to research conducted by the firm, since the onset of the pandemic some two thirds of Australians looking to study would consider enrolling themselves in online learning anywhere in the world, while a third of respondents born between 1997-2012 (Generation Z) stated that Covid-19 will change the way they study over the long term – which, says EY, is particularly insightful as they leave high school and consider their options for work and education.

Yet, other factors beyond digital disruption and the decline of international students may also play a part in undermining the campus. According to the report, when it comes to recruitment, employers are increasingly leaning toward a tertiary model which favours micro-credentials and graduates with on-the-job learning.

Notably, fellow Big Four firm PwC recently committed $15 million toward establishing its own academy for employee learning and accreditation.

“The traditional university degree, once a ticket for lifelong employment, continues to fall out of favour with employers and students. Instead, there is increasing demand for learning that is continual, flexible, customisable, and close to free,” concluded Friday. “In 2018, EY predicted that Australia’s higher education system needed radical reform by 2030 to guarantee its future. However, Covid-19 brought forward the need for systemic reform to now.”