Many will have seen the recent PwC report: 'Australian Higher Education Workforce of the Future', which was commissioned by the Australian Higher Education Industry Association (AHEIA).

PwC has conducted a review of the higher education sector and taken a close look at the environmental changes likely to affect it in the coming years. The report looks to guide universities on how they might structure, engage and develop their workforces.

Key questions

The report addresses two key questions: 

  1. What are the drivers of change which will have the greatest impact on the sector?
  2. What does that mean for how universities will need to structure their workforces in the future?

Unsurprisingly, it finds that the landscape of the higher education sector is changing significantly.

Key themes

Five key themes are identified as having the greatest effect:

  • environmental impact factors
  • the changing nature of work
  • changing business models
  • student expectations
  • future workforce needs

As universities face greater competition from both overseas universities and an exponential growth in non-university higher education providers, student expectations continue to shift to demand a more customer-focused and convenient offering. It is clear that the creation of new technologies is eroding the notion of the traditional campus experience.

Meanwhile, funding remains uncertain and employers expect graduates to be 'work ready'. Universities are expected to offer more, but with fewer resources. Universities are grappling with balancing the expectations of staff with the reality of these demands.

Attributes of the future workforce

The report identifies key attributes a university workforce will need to cope with the changing landscape, including greater agility and flexibility and a focus on industry engagement. It is suggested that staff be allowed greater mobility into public and private industry and that, where appropriate, there be less emphasis on research in assessing individual performance.

What next?

In order to accommodate these types of changes, the nature of traditional workload models will require overhaul. Universities will be looking to create greater flexibility around the design of existing roles and skills requirements.

This might involve:

  • moving away from a default 40/40/20 model
  • allowing academics to flex between research focussed and teaching focussed work
  • improving clarity around performance expectations
  • recruiting talent with industry experience and connections
  • developing performance and reward structures that encourage industry participation
  • investing in leadership and professional development
  • more industry partnerships, secondments and greater use of specialised contractor workforce.

These changes will need to be integrated into employment contracts and policies and your university will need a contemporary enterprise agreement (which will require a sound and well thought out strategy) which meets the needs of the university and its future workforce.