Monday, February 22, 2021

A century that profoundly changed universities and their campuses

by Geoff Hanmer, The Conversation:

This history of the development of universities is the first of two articles on the past and future of the campus. This is a long read, so set aside the time to read it and enjoy.

Image: The Conversation

Once the first atomic bomb exploded on 16 July 1945 in New Mexico, the world would never be the same again. Scientists and engineers had turned an obscure principle into a weapon of unprecedented power. Los Alamos, the facility where the bomb was designed, was run by the University of California.

This was a turning point for universities. As they increasingly focused on scientific research, the role of universities worldwide - and their campuses - changed.

Before the first world war, the largest investment on most campuses was the university library. After the second world war, investment shifted decisively to laboratories and equipment.

A key reason for the increasing focus on university research was the lessons of the first world war. After the war, governments of rich countries took an increasingly interventionist role in directing and encouraging the research and development of artificial materials, weapons, defences and medicine. Universities or institutes associated with universities did much of this work.

By 1926, the Council for Science and Industrial Research, the predecessor to the CSIRO, and the organisation that would become the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) had been founded in Australia.

A gradual turn towards research

In the UK, many of the older universities were not that keen on applied research. Chemistry, engineering and physics were taught at Oxford between the wars, but by 1939 the chemistry cohort was just over 40 students, of whom “two or three were women”.

It wasn’t until 1937 that Oxford drew up a plan to develop the “Science Area” with new buildings, but in that same year, the university also agreed to reduce its size to avoid a fight with the Town over “further intrusion on the Parks”.

Facilities at Cambridge for physical sciences were slightly better, but not by much, despite its historical focus on mathematics. The Cavendish laboratory in which the New Zealander Ernest Rutherford discovered in 1911 that the atom had a nucleus was small, dark, damp and ill-equipped.

The room used by Ernest Rutherford for his atomic research
A century ago, universities provided modest facilities for researchers like Nobel laureate Ernest Rutherford. Science Museum London/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

This relative lack of interest in experimental sciences at  Oxbridge was unhelpful for science research in Australia, because our six small state-run universities tended to follow their lead. As an indication of its priorities, the University of Adelaide built its humanities buildings in stone and its much more modest science facilities in brick.

Nobel laureate and University of Adelaide Professor W.H. Bragg carried out his pioneering experiments on X-ray crystallography in Adelaide during 1900 to 1908 in a converted storeroom in the basement of the Mitchell Building. His lab is now a storeroom again.

The post-war transformations

The application of university research had been a German strength since well before the first world war with the rise of the Humboldtian model of higher education, which favoured research over scholarship. A key reason the Allies prevailed in 1945 was that the United States in particular rapidly improved its capacity to carry out and apply research, based on the Humboldtian model.

In 1917, MIT established a naval aviation school. The University of Washington soon followed MIT’s example.

This decision had a direct bearing on the success of the Boeing company following construction of the Boeing wind tunnel at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus in 1917. It led directly to the development of advanced aerodynamics for the Boeing 247 of 1933, which provided the template for all subsequent commercial airliners.

The Australian university system between the wars offers no such exemplars. The focus on applied research was foreign to the prevailing university culture in Australia at the time. As  Hannah Forsyth writes in A History of the Modern Australian University, not until the 1940s did “scholarly esteem began to move away from ‘mastery’ of disciplines towards the discovery of new knowledge”.

Boeing 247 aeroplane on the runway
The wartime construction of a wind tunnel at the University of Washington enabled development of the Boeing 247, which provided the template for commercial airliners. Ken Fielding/FlickrCC BY-SA

New research facilities and new campuses

New technologies led to a host of new post-war industries, including commercial aviation, television, plastics, information technology (IT) and advanced health care. The demand for skills to operate these new industries was the primary driver of an explosion in university enrolments.

University science research in Australia only got a serious start in 1946 with the foundation of the Australian National University (ANU) and the Commonwealth Universities Grants Committee, which became the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Australian National University sign on Canberra campus
The founding of the Australian National University in 1946 marked a shift in Australia towards more research-focused universities set on very large campuses. EQRoy/Shutterstock

As Robert Menzies, the prime minister from 1949-66, later wrote:

The Second World War brought about great social changes. In the eye of the future observer, the greatest may well provide to be in the field of higher education.

In Australia, about 80% of our universities have been founded since the second world war. The growth of the sector has been startling.

chart showing postwar growth in university student numbers in Australia
Author provided

All of the institutions founded during the Menzies era were sited on large campuses in the suburbs or beyond. Although mainly Commonwealth-funded, they were designed and delivered by state public works authorities to tight budgets on land provided largely by state governments. UNSW, Monash, Griffith, La Trobe, Flinders and WAIT (now Curtin) share a heritage of economical buildings on large parcels of land.

The key reasons for this approach were to minimise cost and maximise capacity for growth and change. Low to medium-rise buildings on land surplus to state needs maximised bang for buck. Development costs per square metre of building were about half that of a campus in the central business district (CBD) of cities.

This was not a new discovery. The universities of Stanford, Berkeley, Caltech, Tokyo, Wisconsin and Peking, all founded in the 19th century, used this model for similar reasons.

Fortunately, the states were generous with land they didn’t need. Of all the universities built in the Menzies era, only UNSW with 39 hectares has a significant land area constraint. The other universities have at least 50ha and several have well over 100ha. This has given them some headaches, but also lots of options.

Research by ARINA, an architectural firm specialising in higher education, community and public design, shows that virtually all universities built since 1949 - that’s more than 90% of universities in the world - have large campuses with densities less than 500 students per hectare. The University of Bath, built in 1966, is typical of post-war UK universities with 59ha and 16,000 students in 2021, less than 300/ha.

The same is true even in small city-states such as Hong Kong and Singapore. The National University of Singapore has a campus of about 140ha with 37,000 students (264/ha) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has 55ha with 11,000 students (200/ha).

Campus of National University of Singapore
The National University of Singapore has a campus of about 150ha despite the city-state’s small area. EQRoy/Shutterstock

Most new universities in Europe, Asia, India and the Middle East still rely on the large campus model. The University of Paris-Saclay, for example, is being built on 189ha of former farmland 15km south of the Paris orbital motorway.

Broad-acre campuses are popular with students as measured by surveys of educational experience such as the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) and the US National Survey of Student Engagement (NESSE). The most popular campuses in Australia are Bond, New England, Griffith and Notre Dame. RMIT and UTS, the highest-ranked CBD campuses finish in the middle of the pack, a long way behind the leaders. A similar phenomenon can be seen in the UK and the US.

Campus model goes corporate

The ARINA research indicates broad-acre campus models have also become increasingly part of the physical organisation and accommodation of many commercial operations.

In 2020, 63% of the top 30 US Fortune 500 index and 87% of the top 30 tech companies in the index were located in suburban and extra-urban settings, mostly campuses. This includes well-known tech companies such as Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Tesla and HP, but also less obvious candidates such as Walmart, Exxon Mobil and Amazon.

Chart showing locations of top 20 Fortune 500 tech companies
ARINAAuthor provided

In the UK, 28% of all FTSE 100 companies and 54% of FTSE Techmark 100 companies by market capitalisation are based outside greater London.

Chart showing locations of top 20 tech companies in the UK
ARINAAuthor provided

The reasons for this are straightforward: capital and operating costs for research-based firms are lower outside a CBD. While some Australian universities are choosing to head into the city, much of the new economy appears to be heading for the suburbs. It’s happening for the same reason that universities started to migrate there over a hundred years ago.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Document naming conventions to avoid confusion between candidates and supervisors

by Claire Aitchison, Doctoral Writing SIG:

Image by

In my experience, academic writers often create fairly idiosyncratic systems for naming and sharing word documents. However, when authors need to collaborate, share, and review documents together, these individual systems can collide causing mix-ups and frustrations.

For example, one area for confusion can arise when a file is marked FINAL – with all the certainty and boldness the capitalisation deserves! Sparked by this quandary, here I reflect on practices for the naming and exchange of writing between supervisor and candidate. This post gets its energy from the promising idea of a FINAL draft, and suggests some practical ways to avoid confusion when drafts pass between supervisors and candidates.

There is a seduction, a promise, a hope in the term ‘Final’. There is also a closing, a release, a sense of completion and satisfaction from employing the term. It is a shared longing, but not necessarily a shared perception of the state of affairs.

What does ‘Final’ mean?

Does Final mean one or both supervisors have finished their reviews and do not wish to see the chapter again? Does it mean the work is ready to go to the printer, to be submitted, or ready to go to a paid editor (if that is allowed at the conferring institution)?

When a doctoral student sends their supervisors a chapter marked ‘FINAL’, are they taking agency and showing their own critical evaluation? Or are they calling out that they have had enough? This is it. No more. Or, does it simply mean, for now, this is my final version?

Whether as author, co-author, student, or doctoral supervisor, I expect there would be few of us who have not had the unsettling experience of finding more than one version of a document labelled ‘Final’. Indeed, recently I joked with a colleague: How many Finals does it take to finish a PhD? (Let us know if you have the answer!).

Clarity around naming of documents

We have written before about the importance of good file management. Researchers, collaborators, and the members of supervisory teams share a common need to exchange files regularly and to do so with clarity about versions and editing/feedback cycles. The naming of files can play an important role in this, and yet, there doesn’t seem to be agreed or widely practiced method. 

Even when documents are open for access between numerous people (such as shared in Google Doc), naming and turn-taking conventions can be confused.

In my opinion, good file naming conventions mean I can easily identify the author, the contents, the version, and, when necessary, the identity and sequence of reviewers. My preference is to know this information, in that order. I’ve worked out one way of doing this which I’ll explain – but we’re keen to hear about other practices too. Minimising confusion and errors that can maximise efficiencies is in everyone’s interests.

Here are my basics:

  1. Agree on the conventions: Have a discussion to establish your shared practice early on. Be aware that institutions and relevant research/ethics bodies may have advice/practices you should be cognisant of. 
  • Be consistent. Stick to your agreed conventions and apply them consistently over time and across different kinds of documents (unless it really does need revising). 
  • Whose is this? Because supervisors are likely to have more than one student, make authorship clear. I favour initials at the beginning of the file name.
  • What is this? File names need to indicate what is contained therein. Be informative, even if this means names need to be longer than you would like. Avoid cryptic, and obscure abbreviations. For example, doctoral work can sometimes be simply described as MJ-Chapt 1 (that is, author: Mahira Jaraha, content: Chapter 1). At other times, we need to indicate this is significantly different from previous versions, as this modification shows: MJ-Chapt 1_NewIntro.
  • Haven’t I already seen this? Having established authorship and content, provide information that indicates which version this is. In my view, this cannot be adequately indicated by writing Version 2 (or v2). As a doctoral student, you are probably keenly aware of how many versions you have exchanged with your supervisor – but they, on the other hand, are unlikely to know if this is the 4th or the 14th version … they will have lost track. Date is a far more reliable indicator. And here’s another tip – please include the year (yes, you will be returning to manuscripts that are years old …).  I do it this way: MJ-Chapt 1_150221 (that is, Mahira Jaraha, Chapter 1, circulated on 15th February 2021).
  • Who is to read and review this? So far, it is relatively easy – the bigger challenge is naming documents that are shared with different people individually or sequentially, as occurs commonly within supervisor teams. This is about keeping track of the reviewing process. It can be a nightmare trying to record who has seen and worked on the document last. One of my students introduced me to this convention when she sends work only, or first, to me: MJ-Chapt 1_150221_for CA (that is, Mahira Jaraha, Chapter 1, circulated on 15th February 2021 to Claire Aitchison for review). 
  • Who is next? Using the same example, when I return it to MJ and/or pass it on to the next supervisor, I adjust the end of the file thus: MJ-Chapt 1_150221_afterCA_280221 (that is, Mahira Jaraha, Chapter 1, originally circulated on 15th February 2021, and returned after it has been read by Claire Aitchison on the 28th February 2021). 
  • And what about other readers? This system allows for additional reviewers to be added, for example, a second supervisor reviewer receives this document into which I have already provided feedback. Then, with his feedback added, he returns the document to us naming it thus: MJ-Chapt 1_150221_CA_280221_SL_140321. 

Clearly, the file name is getting long and cumbersome, so it may be appropriate to drop off unimportant details. For example, if this is a closed circle of exchange and no-one is likely to need reminding of the author, or if the date of the first draft is no longer relevant, such components could be left off – but beware, changes can alter the automated sequencing order.

As I write this, my system seems more complicated than I realised! If nothing else, I hope this post will encourage you to create something better. However, whether you use my ideas or other conventions, what’s important is that your practices for exchanging documents are sustainable and clearly understood by all the users.

Monday, February 15, 2021

COVID killed the on-campus lecture, but will unis raise it from the dead?

by Shelley Kinash, Colin Jones, and Joseph Crawford, The Conversation:

Throughout the world, COVID-19 health regulations have made the on-campus lecture mostly defunct. And most Australian universities won’t be offering on-campus lectures in 2021.

The Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-Learning (ACODE) recently published a white paper on lectures, based on survey responses from 43 member universities (91% response rate). About two-thirds indicated they would not be conducting on-campus lectures this year.

University of Southern Queensland (USQ), for example, sent a document to all staff and students announcing on-campus classes, such as tutorials, lab work and small-group seminars, will continue in 2021, with the notable exception of the traditional lecture. At USQ, when didactic content does need to be delivered, it will be done online, in smaller chunks, with student learning activities interspersed.

half-empty lecture theatre
Traditional lectures are often poorly attended and several universities have already decided to abandon them permanently. Shutterstock

The lecture was ailing before COVID

Now that COVID-19 has forced universities to cease on-campus lectures, many report that they will not return after the pandemic. Only 23% of ACODE-surveyed universities said they would return to full lecturing.

Times Higher Education reported last month that Curtin, Murdoch and Victoria universities believe in-person lectures are a mode of the past.

Some universities started “killing off” lectures long before the pandemic. In 2012, for example, The Conversation reported the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) was tearing down its lecture theatres.

Many new and redesigned tertiary campuses are not including blueprinted lecture theatres. The University of Tasmania, for example, is in the process of creating the Inveresk Precinct  with non-traditional teaching and learning spaces.

Why are lecture theatres on the way out?

Mostly this is happening because there are better ways to learn and to prepare for employment. In 2014, UTS explained  its rationale for demolishing lecture theatres was not physical, but educational.

For universities, a primary reason for cancelling lectures is to improve pedagogy or teaching methods. In the ACODE survey, only 7% disagreed with this rationale.

Times Higher Education reported that, by 2013, more than 700 studies had all found lectures are an ineffective teaching approach. There is little empirical evidence to prove that lectures are an optimal way to learn or to develop graduate career skills.

Lectures are passive. They seldom get students to do anything, beyond listening and perhaps taking notes. Lectures fail to foster deep learning and student engagement. The purpose of the lecture is called into question.

Australian students have been voting with their feet. They have continually chosen to forgo lecturespreferring content delivered online.

This learning mode particularly appeals to mature-aged students, who are working while studying and have difficulty fitting long lecture blocks into their schedules. And this  description fits a high proportion of university students today.

young woman takes notes as she sits in front of a laptop at home
University students with busy schedules clearly prefer to engage with much of the traditional lecture content online. fizkes/Shutterstock

Are students or employers concerned?

Early in the pandemic (June through September 2020), i-graduate conducted a survey of Australian domestic and international students. Of the 24,000 respondents, 70% were satisfied with how the universities adapted to COVID-19 and 68% with their overall online learning experience.

While students expressed current satisfaction with online lectures (about 70%), only half thought they should remain. Notably, students were not surveyed about their preference for the online recorded long-form lecture versus alternatives.

A recent FutureLearn survey of just over 1,000 American employers asked: “Are you more likely to hire applicants with online education since the pandemic?” While 75% responded yes, 63% said they would need to “rethink” the hiring process.

But how will students learn what they need to know?

The questions within these surveys are asked in a Shakespearean binary: to lecture, or not to lecture. On-campus or online. The reality is not so simple.

Lectures are not the only approach to university education. Furthermore, the choice of on-campus or online learning is now mostly redundant.

All students spend a lot of their time within online “learning management systems”. Even before the pandemic, curriculum without an accompanying website was rare.

The lecture is still the lecture, whether on-campus, or recorded and posted online. The lecture does not teach any better just because it is digital.

Searching for, planning and booking travel is flourishing online (or at least it was during non-pandemic times). Streaming services have radically changed how people watch television. It is time for universities to catch up to other industries and take full advantage of the opportunities of the internet.

It might be time to let the lecture die, now that other modes of learning and interactions (pedagogies) can thrive.

The University of Southern Queensland, for example, is rolling out a suite of alternative teaching approaches. Most of these are available online. Examples include panel discussions, animated explanations, online experimentation, problem-solving demonstration videos and website hunts.

Such approaches are a sign of the nature of educational change brought forward by the pandemic, which was perhaps long overdue in the higher education sector.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The PhD: A first draft in five minutes a day?

by Pat Thomson, Patter:

This is a brief post. It’s a brief post about a brief strategy which helps you to get started on writing that feels a bit – well – a bit boring. It’s the five minutes a day strategy.

Boring? Yes … sometimes we all have to write things that don’t excite us. We often try to put off tedious writing. We find it hard to get going. We have no energy. Just thinking about the writing makes us feel tired. And perhaps resentful.

When faced with an enervating writing task, it’s tempting to put it off. To do something that’s more interesting. Or perhaps we could sit and look at the blank screen for a while, then switch to email, or marking, or analyse some data, or one of the many other tasks that need doing.

So the boring bit of writing stays unwritten. It becomes increasingly pressing. But no less tedious. You can’t face it. Rinse and repeat. 

Here is one way to get going. Set aside five minutes. Five minutes only.

For the first minute, brainstorm on your screen or on a piece of paper as many elements of the boring piece of writing as you can. What are the bits of stuff you have to write about? Just bullet point them. Don’t fret about it, you’ll know the most important.

Now you have a list. That’s already an improvement on a blank screen or page, but you can do more.

Pick the most boring of all of the boring items. Set your timer for four minutes and write or type as fast as you can about the boring topic for the four minutes. You goal is to reach 250 words. That’s it, just 250 words. Don’t pause, don’t correct the syntax, and leave a blank or write “something” if you can’t think of the right word. Just get stuff down. Your goal is not to generate a coherent flowing piece of writing but to get out as much of the boring stuff as you can.

At the end of the five minutes you’ll actually have made a start on the boring bit of work. You might like to reward yourself for getting going.

Now, if you have time, you can repeat this procedure straight away. Choose the next most boring thing on the list, set your timer for five minutes and write like there’s no tomorrow. Or continue on with the first one if you think you have more to say. Another 250 words down. Again another little reward. 

If you don’t have another five minutes, or the will to go on, put the list and the new 250 words aside and do the same exercise tomorrow.

Five minutes is not a lot of time. And two lots of five minute writing gives you a whole 500 words (but if it’s not working for you, you have only spent ten minutes seeing if it will. Not a lot of time compared to staring at a blank screen). But if it has worked, good for you. You’re underway.

You can keep going in five minute slots a day. Once you have four slots done, you’ll have 1,000 words. Who knew a few days ago that 1000 words could be written without significant pain?

At the 1000 word point, you may want to put the chunks of writing together, and in the order that you think they will go in the paper. You can also add into the document the leftover bullet points from your initial brainstorm. And you now have something like an outline.

You may now be able to go ahead and fill in the various pieces, writing around the remainder of the points. Without timer. Without rewards.. Or you may like to keep going on five minutes a day, point by point, with rewards, until you have the entire outline – lots of chunks of stuff.

These chunks all need work, and they need to be strung together, to link into a narrative chain. But hooray. You do have, at the end of a sequence of only five minutes a day, something that is pretty close to a crappy first draft. Well done you.

So that’s the five minutes day strategy. It’s an adaptation of a common creative writing exercise, tailored to an academic purpose. While it may appear that the major part of this strategy is a short pomodoro, the more important aspect of the strategy is the development of tiny targets, sometimes called micro-goals. Each bullet point from your brainstorm is a tiny writing target.

For people who find getting going hard, or who have very little time to spend on their writing, developing and sticking with tiny targets can be very helpful.

You don’t have to confine tiny targets to boring writing. You can apply tiny targets to anything. With an initial focusing – the brainstorm leading to choice of the mini pomodoro – tiny writing targets can add up very quickly to a text that can then be worked on as a whole. It’s a crappy first draft for sure, but it’s not a blank screen or page. And even a lot of that next stage of second drafting, where you focus on structuring the argument, can happen in little five to ten minute slots.

Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

Monday, February 8, 2021

Which universities are best placed financially to weather COVID?

by Omer Yezdani, The Conversation:

Image: The Conversation

2021 is when the impacts of COVID-19 really start to take their toll on universities, as more than 140,000 international students seek to return to study in Australia. My new analysis, presented in this article, reveals that if one in five international students don’t re-enrol, the loss of revenue would plunge half of all Australian universities into financial turmoil or budget deficit. While the impacts of COVID are unprecedented, modelling universities’ financial resilience shows which institutions fare better and why.

International students generated A$10 billion in fee revenue  for universities in 2019. This in turn drives jobs, local industryresearch and Australia’s reputation as a destination for quality higher education.

Recent modelling by the Mitchell Institute estimated more than 300,000 fewer international students would be studying inside Australia by mid-year, if travel restrictions continued.

Universities employ more than 130,000 staff at 200 campus locations across Australia. Many of these jobs could be at risk. Universities Australia figures show at least 17,300 have already been lost.

Revenue and reputation: a self-reinforcing cycle

In total, 32% of all full-time-equivalent enrolments at Australian universities are international students. About a quarter (24%) of all university revenue comes from these students. Universities’ operating revenue fell 4.9% in 2020, with an estimated 5.5% fall to come in 2021.

International student fees are correlated with university rankings but are also a self-reinforcing cycle: more international students generate more revenue to fund more research, which in turn leads to better rankings and more demand.

Chart showing links between student fee revenue, university resources and reputation.
International student revenue increases university resources, which enhances reputation, which in turn attracts more international students. Author provided

Another risk factor for universities is the concentration of enrolments from just a few source countries. They are also concentrated in the largest institutions. One in four international students (25%) study at one of these five universities: Monash, RMIT, Melbourne, Sydney or UNSW.

The leading source of international students in Australia is China, with 36% of these students. It’s followed by India (14%), Malaysia (7%), Singapore (5%) and Nepal (4%). Just one or two geographic markets dominate international enrolments at most universities.

International students aren’t the only risk factor

The worst-hit universities may be those with small pre-COVID operating margins and high reliance on concentrated international student revenue.

My analysis shows a 20% fall in international student fee revenues would leave 22 universities in deficit or on the brink with a net operating result (revenue minus expenses) of 1% or less.

Those with a higher reliance on international students, less diverse revenue streams or a lower return on equity fare worse in the post-COVID modelling. The chart below shows the impact on university net operating results of five scenarios involving decreases in international students by 10%, 20%, 30%, 40% and 50%.

The net result decreases more dramatically for those with both a high reliance on international students and a limited operating buffer. In other words, the risks already existed – COVID amplified them.

Universities need a buffer to absorb shocks

Many Australian universities rely heavily on revenue from international students as part of their business model and global profile. Twelve rely on international student fees for more than 30% of their total income.

Table of universities that receive more than 30% of their total revenue from international student fees
Data source: Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Finance TablesAuthor provided

While all the universities in the above table are registered not-for-profits, they need to remain financially sustainable. Any organisation involved in high-stakes global markets should have a buffer against rare and unexpected shocks such as the COVID pandemic. A requirement for financial buffers was legislated in the US following the global financial crisis but still remains a vexed issue.

The average net pre-COVID operating result for Australian universities was a healthy 5.6%. However, several started the year with a result of less than 1%. These universities included Charles Darwin (-3.1%), Notre Dame (-2.6%), New England (-1.4%), Macquarie (0.14%), Central Queensland (0.71%) and Charles Sturt (0.77%).

These results raise important questions for university boards. What is a responsible operating result considering the risks of the business and the markets in which it operates? Was “pandemic” already identified in risk registers? And what was done about it?

Significant revenue write-downs leave institutions with only a few levers to buffer the COVID shock while minimising risks to quality.

Chart showing top 10 operating results for universities assuming a 20% fall in international student fee revenue
Author analysis of modelling using data from Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Finance tables

On average, the above top ten universities generate 20% of their revenue from international student fees. The sector average is 24%.

The University of Melbourne gets 31% of its revenue from international student fees. That’s higher than the average, but its very healthy pre-COVID operating result of 13.9% provides breathing space.

Newcastle, QUT, Edith Cowan and the Sunshine Coast are in the top ten universities, but under this model have a potential post-COVID result of less than the sector average of 5.6%. Their risk exposure to international student fee revenue is still average or lower.

How should universities respond?

Three main conclusions can be drawn.

First, to underpin their financial sustainability and avoid risks to quality, universities must consider not only their reliance on international student fee revenue and market concentration, but also strategies to understand and define their appetite for risk.

Second, the model for online education when travel across borders is limited could be a long-lasting effect of COVID. Long-term strategies and regulatory practices to deal with this “new normal” of global higher education will be needed, beyond temporary regulatory flexibility.

Third, disruption to higher education is here to stay. Waiting for a time when the view on the horizon is clear for all to see may be too late.

Global higher education requires a new organisational ambidexterity. That means universities must revisit core operating models, re-imagine future potential and succeed on the disruptive edge.

Note: Department of Education, Skills and Employment finance tables used for this analysis may differ from institutional reports due to various accounting methods.