A new report has called for Australian universities to reinvent themselves - and it seems that the University of Wollongong is ahead of the pack.
The Ernst & Young University of the Future report released yesterday said Australian universities would not survive the next decade unless they changed their business models.
"We've seen fundamental structural changes to industries including media, retail and entertainment in recent years - higher education is next," says report author Justin Bokor, executive director in Ernst & Young's education practice.
"There's not a single Australian university that can survive to 2025 with its current business model."
However UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings said it had already committed to change - last week the university council passed a proposal to streamline its 11 faculties into five as part of the 2013-2018 strategic plan.
Professor Wellings said while the Ernst & Young report was "interesting", he did not agree with some of its findings - including those that said universities would face stiff competition from online sources.
"The Ernst & Young premise is that massive open online courses (MOOC) are likely to become dominant, but I'm not sure that's true," he said.
"While technology is increasingly important, the one thing we know is that there is a huge drop-out rate for students enrolling in MOOCs - around 85 to 95 per cent don't complete them.
"The MOOC system may provide teaching, examination and assessment - but they don't engage with the school system, community, industry and alumni like a traditional university.
"... and I don't think there's an employer in the world who would consider an online degree as good as a regular degree."
Instead, Professor Wellings said, the challenge for traditional universities was to offer credit for some online subjects to integrate them into their own degrees.
The report said universities might need to focus on a smaller range of programs, or on specific groups such as mature age or international students.
"If we were in a big metropolitan centre like Sydney where there are a number of universities and private sector providers then I might agree with that," Professor Wellings said.
"But being a regional university, it is important for us to be a full spectrum university with a range of courses for a range of different users," he added.
The report also emphasised the need for universities to get leaner in how they run the "back-office" and use their assets.
It found that the ratio of support staff to academic staff had to change at Australian universities, with support staff outnumbering academics. The UOW has a fairly even split - with 1285 general staff and 1278 academic staff at its onshore campuses.
Professor Wellings said: "We will also be developing our capacity as a digital university by capitalising on the rise of digital content and technologies."