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Universities shed books, lecture halls

Higher education must “recast” itself for innovation, says University of Melbourne vice-chancellor

Traditional lecture theatres are disappearing, says Melbourne University's Glyn Davis

Traditional lecture theatres are disappearing, says Melbourne University's Glyn Davis

Digital disruption has required quick and massive change at universities, according to Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne.

Universities must “recast themselves pretty fundamentally,” Davis said this afternoon at ED:SPARK, an education-focussed startup conference in Sydney hosted by Optus Innov8.

According to Davis, higher education must answer the question, “If everything’s online, why come to the campus?”

As a result, traditional lecture theatres are disappearing, he said. Every university is busy “ripping them out” in favour of labs and other spaces that emphasise interactivity, he said.

Likewise, books are a “complete waste of space” in today’s university libraries, said Davis. The University of Melbourne is instead refocussing the spaces to spur interaction among students, he said.

Universities must also connect students to the industry, for example by bring technical people form major tech companies into the university to collaborate on startup incubators, he said.

Davis added that he is a believer in MOOCs—massive open online courses. He called such free courses as a “really important way to learn.”

The University of Melbourne hosted its first MOOC last year, enrolling 348,000 students from around the world, he said. While this year’s course has yet to begin, the university has already signed up the first 67,000 students, he said.

Higher education has grown considerably since 1990 and is now a $15 billion a year industry, Davis said. However, that success does not mean universities can rest on their laurels, he said.

“Innovation—if you don’t move quickly you get wiped out.”

Adam Bender covers business tech issues for CIO and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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