Using agile resource to meet the challenges in Australia’s evolving higher education landscape

Using agile resource to meet the challenges in Australia’s evolving higher education landscape

Adam Kyriacou, Managing Partner at Odgers Interim, explains why universities are increasingly turning to interim leaders to meet strategic challenges.

Australia’s higher education sector continues to evolve at pace. Global competition for the world’s students shows no sign of abating, and Federal government funding cuts mean our higher education institutions will need to maintain their focus on maximising student fee income and resources, while ensuring they can sustain the outstanding level of educational quality they are world renowned for delivering.

A myriad of internal and external factors continues to drive the need for transformation and innovation and this places significant pressure on university resourcing, people and delivery plans.

Some factors include -

  • Countries that have traditionally been important sources of international students are rapidly building their own higher education systems for domestic students, as well as targeting international students. The peak body, Universities Australia, recently outlined China, Japan and Malaysia’s aggressive goals to greatly increase the number of international students
  • Students’ expectations about their university years are increasingly ‘customer’ centric, focussing on their experience above and beyond educational results. This includes access to both physical and digital infrastructure
  • The changing nature of Australia’s demographic is putting pressure on all sectors to address the shortage of experienced people in key leadership and management roles. An unprecedented number of highly qualified ‘baby –boomer’ age higher education professionals will retire, creating an ever increasing challenge to adequately resource critical leadership and transformation roles
  • As Federal government funding tightens, Australian universities will need senior academics and corporate services managers able to navigate complex national funding arrangements. This will place further pressure on existing Australian-based candidates.
  • Government regulation influenced by politics, as evidenced by the recent proposed changes to 457 visas, may further reduce universities’ ability to attract international academic leaders able to lead the change
  • As a consequence of these issues and many more, candidate pools are at times becoming strained. Some universities are experiencing lengthening timeframes when it comes to finding and hiring the right people from their own networks - particularly when their needs are urgent

To address some of these challenges, university leaders are increasingly engaging ‘Interim Academics’ and ‘Interim Executives’ outside of their immediate contacts. Usually able to begin assignments immediately and relocate at short notice, these highly qualified and experienced leaders and managers are helping transform universities where strategic leadership and project management gaps mean you can quickly fall behind the competition if you leave a leadership role vacant.

The critical importance of higher education and the need for the current period of change to be successful are difficult to underestimate, given the annual figures of 1.3 million students, 300,000 graduates and 120,000 full time staff engaged in Australian  universities.

The strategic, educational and operational challenges faced by Australia’s higher education sector are evolving rapidly in response to changes in the policy and funding landscape.

Greater competition, changing demographics and the need to rapidly address leadership gaps are areas creating demand that is increasingly being met by the growing network of interim leaders engaged through Odgers Interim Australia.

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