This week: what is the future of universities? As the sector navigates disruption and uncertainty, special guest Professor Mark Scott AO, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney joins us to discuss the future of higher education.
Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Futures Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.
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Mark Scott If universities are really in the knowledge and the information business, say we're in the information business and teaching as a way of packaging information and delivering it an appropriate way to an audience, that's what many tech and media companies around the world are doing, too. So, I think what you can see at the moment in the environment is that universities don't have a monopoly on being able to package knowledge to inform audiences. There are many corporations globally who are doing that now. We don't have a monopoly on the mode of delivery because increasingly technology enables others to have the mode of delivery.
Sandra The world shaping universities is changing very quickly and Professor Mark Scott, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney is currently preparing for the coming disruption. Globally, higher education is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Around the world, 220 million students are in the tertiary sector and in 10 years’ time, half of all the young people in the world will be enrolled in a higher degree course. The significant potential revenue coupled with the growth in online learning ushered in by the pandemic, have attracted the attention of organisations outside of the traditional education sector. The learning experience they offer promises to revolutionise access to education, on demand, low cost and for everyone. While COVID-19 forced universities to pivot to online learning, industry leaders like Mark Scott are warning the sector that university life cannot return to the old normal. But this is not just about the future where the student experience might be radically different to the one you are I had. Universities have always also wrestled with society's most pressing problems. But today, issues like climate change and rising inequality continue to challenge the way universities have traditionally done research in disciplinary silos. And where will the money to fund this necessary work come from? I'm Sandra Peter, and this week on The Future, This Week, a special on the future of higher education with Professor Mark Scott.
Intro From The University of Sydney Business School, this is Sydney Business Insights, an initiative that explores the future of business. And you're listening to The Future, This Week where Sandra Peter and Kai Riemer sit down every week to rethink and unlearn trends in technology and business.
Sandra Mark Scott's reputation for imagining the future was forged from his time as the head of two large organisations undergoing systemic change. As the managing director of Australia's national broadcaster, Mark transformed the ABC from a traditional TV and radio organisation into an innovative digital powerhouse. During his time as the head of the New South Wales Department of Education, Mark grappled with the future of school education. Now, as the Vice-Chancellor of Australia's oldest university, Mark has words of warning for the sector, and ideas on how to navigate the uncertain times ahead. As I sat down with Mark, I felt that the future demands that we start with a very simple question. What are universities for?
Mark Scott Firstly, it's a place of discovery. It's a place where knowledge is discovered through research. And we don't always know immediately what that knowledge is going to mean and where that knowledge is going to take us. But, we build on the knowledge that's been invented or understood previously, we put research teams at work and we discover new things. And then often down the track, we discover applications for that knowledge, which gives us a deeper understanding of the world we live in, and how the world, and the universe in a sense, comes together, but also leads to discoveries that make a profound impact on the way that we live our lives. I think this is part of the challenge that the university sector has, in that, the full impact of the work that we do here is often not understood to have benefit beyond our gates. It's almost like those researchers doing things that interest those researchers, those students are lucky that they got the marks to study at the University of Sydney. Whereas, really, that's a very limited lens in which to view the impact of the work we have here. And I think COVID-19 has been a great example of it. You know, we have head researchers, we have the researcher who works here at the University who first posted the genetic information around COVID that allowed all the vaccine makers to go to work. We have experts in public health, experts in vaccine strategy, experts across a range of areas which have had enormous impact and benefit for our community, and all of those people are working with us every day here at the University of Sydney. That's a key part of what happens at university, but then we provide opportunities for people, particularly young people, on leaving school, but people increasingly throughout their careers, we provide them with opportunities to come to deep knowledge and deep understanding in certain areas. But we also equip them with skills that they will need to go and lead compelling and interesting lives and lives that make contribution to broader society. You know, here at the University of Sydney, we talk about "leadership for good," we're creating leaders of the future. We are an institution that's established for the common good, the benefits that accrue from the university, apply to society as a whole and reap a rich dividend in the lives of those who study with us and the impact that they will have on other people.
Sandra Let me go to your observation about the world shaping universities changing very, very rapidly. In characterising the biggest challenges facing the university sector, you drew a parallel with your time at the ABC, where you quickly realise that the biggest threat to media was external and not from within the industry, and specifically, it's what we now recognise as big tech, or the Frightful Five. And many have equated this to a technological challenge, must have digital platform, or to a business model challenge, you know, show me the ad money. But social changes that ensued were equally significant, you know, young people getting their political news on TikTok, public conversation and democracy being done on Facebook. What's the world shaping universities like? And, what are some of those big technological challenges and social forces impacting the future of universities?
Mark Scott Yeah, it's interesting. When I was running the ABC, I would on occasion be brought in to speak to groups of vice-chancellors and I would talk about what we'd seen in the media sector. When I grew up in Sydney, I read newspapers, they came out in the morning, in the afternoon, they were Sydney newspapers. I listened to Sydney radio stations, I watched Sydney television channels. News was local and it was provided by a handful of media proprietors, it was a very wealthy oligopoly. But I never thought for a moment I could read The New York Times when I lived in Sydney, you read that when you lived in New York, or watch BBC programming, no, no, that's what happened when you lived in London. But what we saw in the media was global barriers collapsed. You could consume content from anywhere in the world anytime, any place, at any moment. And it became a global market rather than a local market. And some of the competitors that arrived in that space weren't other media companies, they were tech companies who had a wonderful ability to create content in a compelling way and to use their technological power to find audiences and then monetise those audiences. And I'd point out to the vice-chancellors as well, "what's another closed oligopoly market, where you've got a handful of providers delivering strongly, locally and there's quite self-contained way?" Well I argue the university sector looked a bit like that. And now I think what you can see is the world in delivering teaching and learning, anyway, really opening up. And COVID-19, I think, has accelerated that. The ability to be able to find students rather than expecting students to come to you, to be able to take the learning to students using technology, no matter where they are, the ability for that teaching and learning to be provided from anywhere. So not just universities in Sydney, but universities around the world providing that, and providing in a way that can be immediate and compelling. If universities are really in the knowledge and the information business, say we're in the information business, and teaching is a way of packaging information and delivering it in an appropriate way to an audience, that's what many tech and media companies around the world are doing, too. So I think what you can see at the moment in the environment is that universities don't have a monopoly on being able to package knowledge to inform audiences. There are many corporations globally who are doing that now. We don't have a monopoly on the mode of delivery, because increasingly, technology enables others to have the mode of delivery. And so if in fact, you don't want to be like media companies, and many traditional media companies were caught quite complacently suspecting that none of these things would impact them in a profound way. Well, time, caught them out. And there was a sense of denial as to where the challenges come from. And I think universities need to be very careful around that. We've got great longevity here at the University of Sydney, we've been going for 170 years, there's no guarantee that a robust 170 years secures your future, you need to be thinking and asking now, "where's the world going, and how do we remain compelling and engaging in the delivery of teaching and learning into the future, the way that we had been in the past?" There's a line I like from the Italian novel, The Leopard, which resonates with me. And it says, "if we want things to remain the way they are, things will have to change." So if we want to be a great institution of teaching and learning, attracting our wonderfully intelligent, engaged people into our university, create great opportunities for them. If we want to be the first choice for teachers and students and researchers, then maybe we will have to change. Because to simply keep doing things the way we've always done them, does not secure a future. So if you want things to remain the way they are, things will have to change.
Sandra Let me turn to some specific areas that are changing in higher education. And one of those is around the role and the future of campuses, because for most of history, the university has been a physical space for learning, for collaborative research and for basically young people to grow up. This has been altered by the pandemic, at least in the short term, but also more fundamentally, by this shift to online learning, but also to online conversations, online socialising. What's the role and the future of campuses in the digital age? And not tomorrow, like, in 10 years’ time?
Mark Scott Yeah, what an important question, and nobody knows the answer to that, but, let me give you my read at this point. I still think for young people, particularly undergraduates, that campus remains a very important place. Our research shows this, that young people will learn best when they're deeply engaged in learning, where it's not a quick, transactional engagement, but they're really kind of dived in, they're into the marrow of the learning. Someone said to me, you know, the worst case scenario is for the university engagement to be a bit like a trip to Service New South Wales, you know, how quickly can I get out with a relevant piece of paper? No, no, that's not what learning is about. And so what did our research say? That deep learning is about, you want the student to be engaged in the subject, for the subject to be interesting and engaging, compelling. But more than that, you want them to meet other people and different people to those they went to school with who are from this suburb, the broadening experience of life on campus and the people you meet, that should be transformational, for a lifetime. And also, I think I'll just add, we clearly are social beings, and to simply be tucked on a screen a long way away when you're at 19, or 20, you know, I'm not sure that's ideal. Now, we need to make campuses more compelling and interesting and engaging and have more reasons for students to be here. That's not to say things don't need to change. You know, when I was a student here, there were a lot of, you know, grey-haired men in particular, standing up the front talking for an hour, you know, they would talk and I would write, and then increasingly, I could not read the handwriting. And look, and I just think, in a way, our students are more demanding than that now. And they're saying to us, well, if I'm going to be here in-person, if you're just going to talk at me, I may as well just watch the video, or I may as well listen to the podcast at double the speed. There are some interesting models being constructed about how to use a longer block of time and bring together lecturers and teaching and bring together tutorials and a lot more talk in the classroom and a lot more problem-solving together, a far more dynamic and interactive learning experience, but still the in-person experience. So I think, for undergraduates, for the campus to be a hub to draw them in, not just for what they're doing in class, but all those other activities that can take place here. I think that's a tremendous opportunity. I think at a postgraduate level, I'm not as sold on that. Society is changing more quickly now than it has at any time since we've known society, you know, Moore's Law and technological change means that students graduating today are going to be having jobs we haven't thought of, using technology we haven't thought of. And so, if there was once a model that said, I go to university to get a knowledge that will equip me to get a job and set me up for life, then that's not the model any more. You really come to university to learn how to be a lifelong learner. Because the one thing we know for sure is that you are going to be learning for the rest of your career. And so I think at a graduate level, what we really want to be is partners in lifelong learning. And then if you're a graduate from Sydney, you're going to keep coming back here, be it for micro-credential, might be for a graduate degree, it might be for a short program, it might be for a weekend refresher, but we are your partners in learning, and the key to that is flexibility, and you being able to engage with us in a way that most suits you and we are equipped to enable and support that.
Sandra Let me go back a bit to that undergraduate experience because, ideally, I'd agree with you, but it strikes me that this is quite hard to do in practice, in that, in very practical terms, we think of courses and teaching in terms of teaching and learning outcomes. And yet the campus experience provides the opportunity to, to go on a date, have a coffee with a colleague, spend some time thinking about, you know, the meaning of life and the future of COVID, and so on. But we have no good ways, yet, to capture that when we think about whether or not we should teach a course, online or in-person, we think about teaching and learning outcomes, COVID risks and cost. How do we think about this productively?
Mark Scott This might be a tough love moment here, but I'm curious at the fact that students may be more inclined to watch the video, or the podcast of the lecture rather than come in. Well, I think that kind of says something, and we've got to be open to what that says. You know, I'm on the board of the Sydney Theatre Company, and if audiences don't turn up to shows, then I think you ask a couple of questions, you know, what is it about the production? What is it about the performance? What is it about the experience that meant people would rather stay at home? If in fact, our students would rather kind of sit in bed, open the laptop and watch the stream of the lecture rather than come in, then I think we've got to say, well, what is there about the in-person experience that wasn't compelling enough to get students in? Now, I appreciate that might be a bit simplistic, and people have complicated lives, and our students are juggling a whole lot of things. But I think what we've got to do is to ensure that the in-class experience is compelling enough, but also that there's enough that's also taking place on campus and in and around campus to draw people in. But everybody wants to be back and we need to make that experience terrific, and very worthwhile.
Sandra You mentioned our students online and online teaching and learning, and I want to ask a bit about the flip side to this conversation, which is, these ideas of place and space in the online footprint. I'm reflecting here on a recent conversation I had with one of the head curators of the Powerhouse Museum. And for them, they've been asking big questions about what does it mean to be a museum online? What does it mean when authenticity of artifacts is an embodied thing? Once you move a collection online, what does it mean to be a museum? What does it mean to be in the Powerhouse Museum? How do we ask those kinds of questions in a university? What does it mean to have a distinctive Sydney experience online?
Mark Scott I mean, one of the reasons you've come to Sydney, kind of in-person, is a fabulous reputation. We attract great students, we have world class employment stats, at the end, our graduates' employability is absolutely kind of second-to-none, globally. And it's such a lovely physical place, you know, the quad, the jacarandas, it's gorgeous. And this building we're in now at the Business School, absolutely, world class also. So I think the physical arguments are clear, well, what is there about the online that makes it compelling and interesting and engaging? And how is it different to studying in another Australian university? And how will it compete with global universities that might want to come and offer in this space? If Stanford is here, if Oxford is here, if Harvard is here, if in fact you have an ability to get some kind of credential, some kind of career benefit from studying with them online here in Sydney, how do we compete with that? I think that's a very compelling proposition for us. One of the things I think I learnt from the ABC, but also when I was in newspapers, is that digital is different. You know, back in the early days, the Sydney Morning Herald, I think the feeling was ah, simply just take the newspaper up and put it online. And there it is. And certainly, at the ABC, we'll just kind of run the seven o'clock bulletin, put that up online, everyone will watch it. Well, actually, the level of engagement, the level of interaction, the expectation of audiences are quite different. And how you engage, how you attract attention, how you keep attention, when that distraction is only a click away, these are new sciences. It's almost like a new pedagogy, I think, the pedagogy of digital teaching, and to make that rich and compelling, and for there to be a University of Sydney way of delivering it. And I think that's a great challenge for us that I don't think we have conquered yet, nor do I think has anyone really conquered it yet, but I think it's a, it's a very good question.
Sandra But it's a challenge facing all of us, and not only other Australian universities, but international universities in the space and, increasingly, a very corporatised space where tech companies are delivering products.
Mark Scott I don't underestimate for a moment the impact of tech companies in this space. You know, a LinkedIn, or the Australian company Seek is, kind of, really looking in this space too. And even media companies, if in fact you say media companies package information, and tailor it to meet the needs of audiences and find those audiences well, you know, that's kind of what we do, too. We package information and deliver it appropriately to our audiences, which is our students, and engage them. So, as I was saying earlier, to be a complacent oligopoly and think that because we have the knowledge and we have the history that gives us ongoing competitive advantage, would be extremely naive.
Sandra Let me continue a bit in this online space because, sure, knowledge and skills-based courses for professional audiences, you started talking about that postgraduate experience, micro-credentials, badges and everything that comes with it. How do we think about that space?
Mark Scott Well, I think it will emerge as an important market. Because I think the appetite and the requirement to skill and reskill and to learn and master the new, and for basically your career to be one of lifelong learning, I think that will be self-evident. And I think the challenge for us will be if we don't fill that space, others will come in and fill that space. And again, if you look at the theories and the models of disruption, then the vulnerability really comes when you let someone into your market in what you think is an insignificant niche. And all of a sudden, that becomes a very important market, or they use that strength they get from filling that niche to come and eat your lunch in a variety of other ways. So I think what I'm saying around Sydney, is I think we need to stop thinking of graduation as a finishing line in our relationship with students, and view it more as a milestone that they pass, a very significant milestone, it's full of happiness and joy, that we need to continue to be in a relationship with them, to help them meet their learning needs at different parts and times of their careers. And I think they won't all want to sign up to do an MBA, and very few of them will want to sign up and do a doctorate, but how can we help them master the new and give them confidence and skills, and understanding in managing the new? I think there will be good opportunities for that. But a challenge for us when we're traditionally built around undergraduate and graduate programs, what do micro-credentials look like, what do other short programs look like? And increasingly, are we best to deliver these on our own, or will some of these we do in partnerships? And I think there'll be an interesting question as to whether we do more of these programs in partnerships with other universities, but also whether we partner and broker with companies to help them deliver their very significant ongoing learning needs for their staff. I think just as I can sit here and say, lifelong learning will be a requirement for our graduates, I think if you're at the Commonwealth Bank, or at PwC, or another corporation, you know, you've got to be training your staff all the time. And so do we have real expertise to come in and to partner with those organisations and bring the rich insights we have into knowledge and pedagogy and research here, to partner with them in order to be able to deliver that, you know, I think these are all going to be intriguing questions that we face.
Sandra And certainly a space for experimentation. There's a number of different models, as you've mentioned, and…
Mark Scott Yeah, I think we've got to be open to experiment and open to failing, right? I think this is what all the innovation models say I mean, fail, fail fast. But if in fact, you are so risk averse, and have no tolerance for trying anything, unless you are guaranteed that it will be successful, you'll try very few things, and you will miss out on enormous opportunities. So how do you get that cultural DNA in order to kind of view it as an investment?
Sandra In the words of culture critic Cornel West he said, you know, "yeah, it's a failure, but how good the failure is it?”
Mark Scott Yeah, yeah, yeah. In the school system, where I came from recently, you know, they used to talk about fail, you know, first attempt in learning, right? And, you know, it's one of the important things to educate kids about is to have a growth mindset, the Carol Dweck, you know, research that basically says, yeah, you will fail, you will try things and not master them immediately, but it's in the attempts to master over time that you'd come to mastery. And that's what really gives you strength and resilience. And we need to be training our students that, and as an organisation, we need that growth mindset, as well, that we will invest things, it won't all work, we will learn richly from that. Which means that the next time we are out there trying things, we will be that much more likely to be successful, as long as we are honest in what went wrong, honest in identifying where those failures come from, kind of pretty remorseless and doing the interrogation as to what happened. So that you actually do learn, I think the great risk comes when you fail, and you learn nothing and so you make those mistakes.
Sandra I think that gives us a good in to talking about something you've given a lot of thought recently, which is to how the future of higher ed demands that we rethink collaboration and competition with our peers, with other universities. And I'd say even Wikipedia seems to sense that because your entry has your position as VC at the University of Sydney under a very thoroughly branded and captioned picture of "Scott speaking at the University of Melbourne." How do we think about collaboration and competition with other universities?
Mark Scott Yeah, well, I think it's very important. And one of the things I'd say from where we sit now, if you think of the most pressing challenges that we face as a society, and, you know, we'll just call three obvious ones today, you know, one is COVID, one is climate change, and the other one is increasing levels of inequality and what impact that's having economically, what's happening in different nations, what impact that's having politically. That, you know, COVID, climate inequality, all of these are highly complex issues and the solutions to the challenges they present will need to be discovered in a deep multidisciplinary form. And you see that in places like the Charles Perkins Centre, where they are addressing, you know, some of the great medical challenges of our times, and multidisciplinary teams are attacking that. So the ability to be able to collaborate and work together across disciplinary fields, I think is going to be very important for the nature of the challenge and research that we face. But then as an institution, we need to understand that there are some things that we are great at, but we're not world's best in everything. And at other universities nearby, and other places around the world, there are tremendous researchers who bring a complementarity of skillsets and insights and disciplinary expertise that we don't have. And we will be greatly enhanced by partnering with them and working with them well. And so, therefore, I think you need a reputation for being a great partner, to be a generous partner. And I think you need a belief in collaboration and partnership that says, almost, if you're generous to a fault in trying to set that up, that you will reap the benefits down the track, that every negotiation is not one that you have to win, you know. Many attempts at collaboration don't work, people are too territorial, they're too proud, they're not generous, they're not supportive. And finally, they don't build the capital and trust and goodwill that you need to make a relationship flourish. And so, I think we need to be good at that, we need to be good at the partnerships, and part of that is a, in a sense, a humility, or an honest recognition that there are very talented people and great and deep expertise elsewhere, and we will go further when we go together.
Sandra We recently came across this trend of people studying finance on TikTok, a platform that's 30 seconds. This is not something that we accept, like we're in a business school, surely they're not studying? They're studying data science and finance on TikTok, successfully, right. How do we even start thinking about this or having these things on the radar so we can engage in the conversation about what that does to how our students experience?
Mark Scott I think it's a great example, though, because I think, to a degree, you need to watch carefully what's happening, and listen carefully to what's happening. You nearly need to be an anthropologist around this. Someone who I've met and been influenced by over the years is Genevieve Bell, who works at ANU and, we love Genevieve Bell.
Sandra Yes, we absolutely love her.
Mark Scott And Genevieve, was, you know, for a long time was Chief Anthropologist at Intel, and I remember talking with her, what does that mean? You know, she would lead the discovery from the inside, but just really to ask the questions. What is happening here? And why are people doing as they're doing? And I think in a way, a lot of this conversation today talks about the traps of the history of universities, that we're kind of cloistered and isolated. And we're just doing our own stuff, rather thing about its impact on the outside world and telling the story of the impact of what happens here on the outside world. But also, in a sense, the lack of curiosity as to what's happening, perhaps outside our own deep disciplinary area of expertise. But we really got to look at the behaviours of, particularly young people, the way they are learning online, the way they are using social media, the patterns of behaviour that are emerging from them. And so we've got to think about how we engage given the reality of that world.
Sandra Let me take you a bit to the theme of living in times of uncertainty. And in particular, I want to talk a bit about foresight and planning in this rapidly shifting environment. You became the CEO of our public broadcaster, the ABC in 2006; 2007 was the year that gave us the iPhone, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, also Airbnb, cheap genome sequencing, cloud computing, non-silicon materials to extend Moore's Law and viable fracking, and a whole bunch of other things. It was a big year. I imagine there were strategic plans being laid back in 2006. I wanted to talk a bit about the way you navigate this tension between having the strategy and executing on it, and responding to what was a dramatically shifting landscape.
Mark Scott Yeah, they were interesting times and, I think in a way, I muddled my way through it and now I can construct a narrative over the top of it that makes it seem more coherent than perhaps it was at the time, but, I did have this bracing moment. I'd been appointed at the ABC, I'd come from newspapers, I'd never worked in broadcasting, I was only 43, I was young, and I was somewhat unknown. And I'd signed a five-year contract, and I thought I need a five-year plan. And I started scratching around for my first few months about that five-year plan. And boy, the world was just changing so quickly. And as you know, you've alluded to if, in fact, I had articulated a clarity around where we're going to be in five years’ time, you'd have missed a lot. You'd have missed a lot. But what I did do, I think, was articulate a strategic direction, you know, that we wanted to be a great public broadcaster in the digital era. And we knew that powers were moving from broadcasters to audiences, and we wanted to be a great public broadcast to our audiences at a time they wanted, on a device that we're using, in a format that they wanted. We would be where they were, rather than attempting to bring them to us. And I must say, those kind of handful of almost strategic principles allowed us to start moving in that direction. We weren't quite sure where we were heading, but it was over that hill, we're going that way. And so I think that strategic direction excited people. I sometimes think that we weren't precisely knowing which way we needed to go to. I think about driving over the Harbour Bridge, we weren't quite sure which was the right lane, but the way to get in the right lane was to keep moving and to change lanes rather than to stop, you know, it's far easier to change lanes on the Sydney Harbour Bridge if you are moving at pace, rather than you've ground to a halt and you're waiting for the opportunity. And I think as we started rolling these things out, the podcasting, iView, aggressive push into news online, the children's channel, the news channel, streaming, the television channels on iView. As you started moving and getting some virtuous momentum, it gave the organisation some confidence that we could pull these things off. And then you look back over five years or 10 years think, wow, it's really quite a different organisation to the way that it was. But it was the strategic direction that helped you get that rather than having a secret blueprint in 2006, that you knew the answers to things that were basically unknown. And the university is now the third organisation I've been invited in to lead, where I haven't worked in the past, right? And people always think you arrive with the blueprint, that you got the job because you explained to them precisely what you're going to do well, you know, anyone new to an organisation, no one knows that organisation well enough to know precisely what it is they have to do if they've never worked there. What I think I talk with, you know, boards about is how you go about that process, to discover the future together. There's a line I like from the American futurist, as John Schaar, who says, the future is not a place that we're going, it's a place that we're making. And the paths to the future are made not found. And the process of making them changes us and our final destination. And it's to really say that the discovery of the strategic direction is not imposed, it's created by the organisation as they work out, well, what could we do? Where do we want to be? What is our desired future? And what are the steps we need to take to get there?
Sandra We're coming close to the end of our interview, but I'm hoping we can talk a little bit about vision, narratives, and storytelling. And for that, I want to return a little bit our starting point, I feel there needs to be a broad understanding of what universities are for, and the complex changes in the world in which they operate. But in a recent interview you observed, and you made remarks to that effect today as well, and I agree, that you don't think the public broadly understands the public benefit of universities. The narratives and visions we are often faced with are that of the customer, of personalised learning, of the future that needs to solve for only for access and for flexibility. And add to this the difficulty and unwillingness often to have complex conversations in the era of one-liners, anything from how we think about COVID briefings, and the conversations we have on climate change. How do we tell better stories, or provide those compelling visions about the future of our universities?
Mark Scott It's a very big question, I think, and one I think I'm still wrestling with. I think there are a number of elements though. I think we need to be better at telling our story and we need to recognise we need to do it, we're in a contested space. There's contested space for public dollars, there's a contested space for where investment will come. We need to explain clearly what is happening here. And I must say I think COVID has helped in that regard. I think COVID has showcased deep disciplinary expertise in a way that has impacted on a lot of people in the public in a way that has been important. I've said previously, I'm not sure I feel the sector has always conducted itself with great distinction in Canberra. There's an argument that says the model here, the model of Australian higher education, is under tremendous stress. Two headlines come to mind over the last few years, one is the Prime Minister telling foreign students to go home. But the other one is in the Financial Review a week or so ago, kind of indicating that foreign students will be key to saving the economy, right? You know, I think the circumstance that we found ourselves in that the whole Australian research infrastructure, here at the University of Sydney, we're putting in $700 million a year of income from higher education students to underpin the research effort that's taking place at this university. And, you know, the model that says, the role of international students, how we adequately fund research, how we build career paths for academics, how we fund growth in places, these are all fundamental policy questions, I don't think we have answers to necessarily. But, I'm not sure the way of going about it is to simply go to Canberra and cry poor and demand more money, because universities have significant income, it's just that the model is not holding together well. I think what we need to do in Canberra, particularly around our research, is to go and be in the solutions business, to go to Canberra and explain how the work that we are doing here is fundamentally involved in addressing the key problems that face Australian society, and that we are great partners for government in finding solutions to the grave issues that we face. That's the case here at the University of Sydney, 60% of our research is in medicine and health, 25% of our research is linked to cancer research, we need to be more clearly articulating how we are partners with government, we are partners with the public sector, we are partners with industry, in finding solutions to the greatest problems that we face. I think we also need to do a better job, with our graduates, with our alumni, with the broad community who are engaged with universities now, and for them to understand the full and complete contribution that the university is making to society, and for them to be advocates and supporters of us. And, you know, this is one of the sobering moments, I think, for the sector, in that there are millions who've been to university, have children at university, aspire for their children or grandchildren to go to university. Why aren't they more of a political force putting pressure on political parties of all sides to engage and more effectively support the higher education sector? Why are they quiet? Well, I think we've got to do a better job communicating to them the impact that the sector can have, and to continue to engage with them effectively, you know, through their careers, through their working lives. The future of this land, will not be what we dig up out of the ground, it will be the people who walk this land, it will be their creativity, their ingenuity, their ability to problem solve, their ability to create. And all of that happens in our universities, that's where we are training and developing the next generation to do that. And so the, the challenges we face here at this university, and other universities around the country is central to the future of the nation. And I think we really need to reframe the higher education debate in Canberra, like that it is seen to be as the fundamental investment for the future of the nation. For our ingenuity, our innovation, our discovery of solutions to the great problems that we face and educating the next generation of leadership in this country. We've got to be future focused and we've got to be seen as a key investment for Australia in the century to come.
Sandra Hear, hear. Thank you so much for being so generous with your time and for talking with us frankly, today.
Mark Scott Thanks, I've enjoyed the chat.
Kai This has been a special edition of The Future, This Week. Sandra and I will be back soon to discuss the news of the week. In the meantime, you can catch up on our new podcast, The Unlearn Project, our awesome new series about changing common sense. Get it wherever you get your good podcasts.
Outro This was The Future, This Week, an initiative of the University of Sydney Business School. Sandra Peter is the Director of Sydney Business Insights and Kai Riemer is Professor of Information Technology and Organisation. Connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or WeChat. And subscribe, like or leave us a positive rating wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any weird and wonderful topics for us to discuss, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.