For universities such as RMIT and Monash the decline has been particularly precipitous. In 2001 RMIT had 1,792 domestic postgraduate students which fell to 315 by 2010; Monash’s post graduate enrolments meanwhile dropped from 1,202 in 2001 to 315 in 2010 according to the most recent statistics available from the Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations.
Last month the Australian Computer Society released its own statistics which showed that undergraduate enrolments had halved since 2003 and only around 4,500 local students are expected to graduate with an ICT degree in 2012. Worryingly almost half of the students who start ICT courses at local universities fail to graduate.
Demand for IT skills – although somewhat subdued in the current economic climate – is not abating. About 381,000 people are employed in ICT roles in Australia – about three quarters in the ICT industry itself.
According to Charles Sturt University which bucked the trend – and has actually grown its postgraduate enrolments in the decade to 2010 – the key to success is currency. According to Martin Hale, an adjunct senior lecturer at CSU and CEO of IT Masters, it’s important to “give the customers what they want” and ensure that the postgraduate courses on offer are bang up to date.
A handful of other universities including University of Sydney, Newcastle University, ANU and the University of Melbourne have also increased their postgraduate IT intake over the same period – but far more modestly than CSU.
In the future CSU hopes that the recent introduction of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for postgraduates may spur further interest in its paid postgraduate courses. Demand for the first MOOC has been strong.
When CSU launched its first MOOC a month again it would have been happy with 200 registrations. It secured double that number according to Mr Hale who put together CSU’s first post graduate MOOC in applications development for Windows 8 phones.
Mr Hale said that he was in discussions with Microsoft about follow-on courses, and had also met with Cisco about the possibility of rolling out similar MOOCs for Cisco technologies.
Like many other universities which have embraced MOOCs CSU is hoping that the free courses will serve as a try-before-you-buy incentive for prospective fee paying students. Mr Hale said if the University could convert just 10 of the 400 MOOC registrants into paying students the initiative would have been very successful.
The impact of the MOOC strategy on CSU’s success in postgraduate education won’t be seen in the Government statistics however for another three years because of the reporting lag.
Mr Hale however said that overall postgraduate IT enrolments at CSU had increased over the period adding that the Government statistics did not include CSU’s MBA in computing which was classed by the as a postgraduate business (rather than postgraduate IT) qualification and was therefore not counted.
The university offers 12 postgraduate IT subjects which cost $2,100 each – all study is online, as are most assessments and assignments, although candidates do need to sit a written exam in a secure location to finally achieve a Master's degree. Mr Hale said that the University was now reaping the rewards of “giving the customers what they want” with a particular focus on offering up to date postgraduate courses with a business rather than technical focus.