The Green Paper outlines the challenges we must address to ensure The University of Queensland (UQ) continues to be a destination for the world’s best and brightest students. It also includes proposed strategies that encompass all areas of the student experience from curriculum delivery to campus design and student support.

Peter Høj

Outstanding students, staff and alumni, cross-sectoral partners, imaginative teaching, and supporters in government, industry and philanthropy, have all combined to position The University of Queensland in the top echelons of the world’s universities.

UQ graduates become national and international leaders and contribute to solving some of society’s greatest challenges. They are sought-after employees, valued for their ability to think on their feet, work in cross-cultural settings, and identify opportunities for innovation often overlooked by others. This is in no small part a reflection of the tireless efforts by UQ staff to provide high-quality learning opportunities through student-focused, researchbased teaching. It also reflects the emphasis in the UQ Strategic Plan on student success and the development of ‘must-have’ graduate employees as the first of UQ’s six foundations for the future.

We have already taken a number of steps to welcome students to UQ, enhance online systems and services, develop employability strategies and produce world class online learning materials, and are looking at strategies to free up resources to be re-directed to the academic purpose. There are also many examples of effective, future-oriented practices in student learning across UQ from which we can learn. However, there is a clear view that the University should do more.

Drawing on the perspectives of students, staff and alumni, several data sources have informed this Student Strategy Green Paper, which intends to open a discussion across UQ and its stakeholders on UQ’s distinctive student experience. Following the synthesis of feedback on this Green Paper, a White Paper will be released in early 2016. The next steps will prioritise goals and assess resource implications. In turn, the student strategy will inform UQ’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, thereby setting an ambitious, five-year enhancement process that will include all UQ coursework students, staff, and stakeholders and enrich the career and life prospects of graduates. I hope you will engage actively with this process.

Peter Høj

3. The higher education ground is shifting

The global higher education environment is, like many others, being challenged. It is arguably on the cusp of significant, if not transformational, change as a result of economic instability, disruptive technologies and increasingly competitive globalised markets.[1]  This new environment poses considerable challenges for traditional higher education institutions.[2]

The purpose and function of universities is at a crossroad of competing priorities.  Increasingly, universities are being seen as economic-engines that share greater responsibility for the health and sustainability of national economies through industry-focused research that delivers better commercial outcomes.[3] Universities’ primary function has long been to develop knowledgeable critical thinkers and empathetic citizens;[4] however, knowledge and higher education are now treated as exploitable commodities. Knowledge increasingly needs to be seen as useful to the economy, and employers now apply greater pressure on universities to deliver a workforce and outcomes suited to this environment. 

In Australia, a transitioning national economy[5] and budget frailties have translated to mixed enthusiasm for public funding[6] as the costs of research and education provision continue to grow. The state of per student funding in ‘real-terms’ may be contested,[7] but government policy in the preceding quarter century has meant that less money is now available for each student despite overall funding increases.[8]

The traditional degree is under challenge from both a personal and professional perspective.[9] As fees increase and funding struggles to keep pace, many students question the value of investing in a higher education given technology’s continued displacement of large sections of the workforce and the decreasing chance of employment after graduation.[10] [11] The number of university graduates with large debt is growing, but fewer graduates are earning enough to repay their loans. Evidence suggests that today's new graduates are struggling to find full-time work and are earning lower starting salaries than their predecessors.[12] In light of these conditions, the fundamental question is ‘whether students will continue to consider a university education to be good preparation for working life and citizenship in the 21st century or, more precisely, whether they will continue to see it as good value’.[13]

Students are responding accordingly by identifying career opportunities and employment outcomes as key aspirations for their tertiary study. A 2015 report by QS explored how international students use rankings. When asked which indicators were most important, the top three choices overall were: Quality of Teaching (58%), Employer Reputation (50%) and Graduate Employment Rates (47%).[14] Results from the UK-wide Student Academic Experience Survey 2015[15] indicated that the highest priority for students was for lecturers to have professional or industry expertise in their field, with 44% saying that this was imperative.

As students bear more of the cost of their studies and compete for employment against an increasingly accessible pool of international talent, they are becoming more discerning consumers of education offerings, outcomes and service quality. Although recently released rankings list UQ amongst the world’s top 50 universities, it is concerning that UQ is failing to keep pace with levels of satisfaction for the overall quality of experience, support and skills development as reported in the 2014 University Experience Survey results.[16] This presents a timely challenge and opportunity for strategic change at UQ.

In light of the shifting higher education context, this paper draws on academic futures literature, contemporary reports, examples of international practice, national datasets, and input from the University’s students and staff. This analysis has identified nine key challenges for UQ, each of which is presented briefly below. We believe that the strategies that UQ adopts to meet these challenges will be the core of the new student experience. Each challenge and strategy is provided for your consideration, debate and refinement over the coming weeks. 


[1] Barack, L. (2014). Higher education in the 21st century: Meeting real-world demands. New York, NY: The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited.

[2] Robertson, S.L. (2010). Challenges facing universities in a globalising world. Bristol, UK: Centre for Globalisation, Education and Societies.

[3] Australian Department of Education and Department of Industry. (2014). Boosting the commercial returns from research. Retrieved from  https://submissions.education.gov.au/Forms/higher-education-research/Documents/Boosting%20Commercial%20Returns%20from%20Research%20%20-%2024102014.pdf

[4] Nussbaum, M.C. (2010). Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[5] Jericho, G. (2014, November 10). If you thought Australia’s economy was just barely chugging along – you were right. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2014/nov/10/if-you-thought-australias-economy-was-just-barely-chugging-along-you-were-right

[6] Universities Australia. (2014, November 24). An open letter to Senators from Universities Australia. Retrieved from https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/news/media-releases/An-open-letter-to-Senators-from-Universities-Australia#.Vaxg8Pmqqkp

[7] Carr, K. (2014, November 24). Universities Australia claims untrue [Web log message].  Retrieved from http://www.senatorkimcarr.com/universities_australia_claims_untrue

[8] Norton, A. (2015, May 28). Pure research at universities increasing absolutely, but declining relatively [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://andrewnorton.net.au/?s=funding+real+terms

[9] Staton, M. (2014, January 8). The degree is doomed. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved fromhttps://hbr.org/2014/01/the-degree-is-doomed/

[10] Barack, L. (2014). Higher education in the 21st century: Meeting real-world demands. New York, NY: The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited.

[11] Norton, A. (2014, December 2014). Worst ever new graduate employment outcomes [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://andrewnorton.net.au/2014/12/22/worst-ever-new-graduate-employment-outcomes/

[12] Knott, M. (2015, May 1). ATO statistics show number of university graduates with large HEC debts growing.The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/ato-statistics-show-number-of-university-graduates-with-large-hec-debts-growing-20150501-1mxsrb.html

[13] Barber, M., Donnelly, K., & Rizvi, S. (2013). An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead. London, UK: Institute for Public Policy Research.

[14] Top Universities. (2015). How do students use rankings? The role of university rankings in international student choice. Retrieved from http://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/qs-guides/how-do-students-use-rankings

[15] Hillman, N. (2015, June 4). Three-quarters of students want more information about where their tuition fees go. Retrieved from http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2015/06/04/2015-academic-experience-survey-2/

[16] Quality Indicators for Teaching and Learning. (2015). 2014 University Experience Survey national report. Retrieved from http://www.qilt.edu.au/about-this-site/university-experience-survey-(ues)