Why Ernst & Young should remove degree classification from entry criteria… and why universities must continue innovate

IMG_4336One of the things I have been discussing with friends and colleagues over the last few years is the ‘future of universities’. My argument is quite simple, universities are where newspapers and record labels used to be a decade or so ago: that is, our value proposition is related to the fact that we own content and secondly, that we issue credentials (especially degrees).


Like record labels and newspapers, we can no longer rely on content as MOOCs and other online providers continue to offer alternative knowledge pathways. Regarding credentials, I believe that in the next decade we will be confronted with something like an ‘AppleU’ of ‘GoogleU’ – a fully online credentialed vehicle by one of the tech giants. In fact, the signs are already here…


This will continue to put pressure on universities to show how they add value.


Just how quickly things are changing was highlighted by Ernst and Young‘s announcement that “The accountancy firm is scrapping its policy of requiring a 2:1 and the equivalent of three B grades at A-level in order to open opportunities for talented individuals “regardless of their background”. In other words, academic success at university does not lead to success in the professional environment.


This means that universities need to offer more than just academic excellence – or alternatively, academic excellence is the starting point. It is with this in mind that has driven a number of development at Western Sydney University – specifically revolving around the establishment of The Academy and our Citizen Scholar program. The argument is that we should not just facilitate the emergence of scholars, but also active and engaged citizens.


It is something that is not limited to undergraduate either. A recent review of Higher Degree Research by the Australian Council of Learned Academics (ACOLA) noted the changing demands placed on PhD students. Submissions to the review are available here (including the Western Sydney University submission).


This has also been the focus of a project that Dr David Hornsby  have been working on – which brought together scholars from Australia, South Africa and Canada. The aim was to discuss both how and why we innovative in education. The outcome is a new book commissioned by Palgrave titled Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education.


The book is due for release early 2016… but in the meantime we are likely to see many developments will continue to force universities to innovate or no longer be able to justify their prime position as knowledge producers.

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One Response to Why Ernst & Young should remove degree classification from entry criteria… and why universities must continue innovate

  1. Keith Heggart says:

    Interesting points, and certainly a conversation that need to be happening. Also worth considering that, while record stores are disappearing, book stores and printed books seem to be having a resurgence in the face of e-reading. Is that relevant? Perhaps, in that it suggests that people are more involved in negotiating the move to digital – or resisting it – than our understanding might otherwise show.

    That suggests that universities have a place as long as people value them; that is, as long as there is something to be gained from having the institution and getting a degree – or at least someone is getting a degree. I think at the moment most people support the idea of universities, even if they don’t personally access them.

    Do universities need to be more than centres of academic excellence? Of course. But I think they always have been – the myth of ivory towers is just that. The difference is in who gets to contribute to making those ideas. Universities should be meeting places for ideas and innovation – and those places should be inclusionary rather than exclusionary. Part of being an active citizen should be partaking in discussions and knowledge building in these spaces. I’m intrigued by the notion of the citizen scholar and what that might look like.

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