Bachelor offers key to drive a global economy

23 August 2017

Why is the University of Sydney overhauling our undergraduate curriculum? Our graduates are entering a global job market that is undergoing radical change, writes Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence.

Australian university graduates are among the most sought after in the world. So why, from a position of such strength, would Australia’s oldest academic institution overhaul the way it teaches undergraduates?

Put simply, our graduates are entering a global job market that is undergoing radical change. With technological advancement automating jobs and a globalised workforce driving intense competition for employment, universities must provide their students with the lifelong skills needed to thrive in a 21st-century knowledge economy. More than ever before, graduates depend on their university experiences to succeed in the workplace.

The message from employers is that they are looking for graduates who not only have good grades but who are also agile, digitally literate, can work with people from other cultures and think critically, and have experience in applying these attributes to real-world problems outside lecture theatres. But because the teaching of such skills is not traditionally a formal part of curriculums, they are not available to every student.

While opportunities exist in higher education to develop key skills such as inventiveness, crosscultural competency, project management, ethical leadership, data science and coding, if your course of choice does not happen to cover this content you simply miss out.

From next year, Sydney University will offer all undergraduates undertaking a three-year bachelor degree the option of a four-year combined degree to be known as a bachelor of advanced studies.
Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

In addition to providing discipline area expertise, this course will ensure that students are taught core skills that will set them up for success in any industry, in any country. For some, this will include delivering an ambitious research project; for others, an experience in industry to bridge to their future. 

The course also will ensure that every student builds expertise in a second field that can be chosen from across the breadth of the university’s offerings. A computer science major can build skills in health, an economics major in design, an anthropology major in project management — every student can create their expert niche, while still having the opportunity to try something different.

Young female and male colleague talking.

Each student undertaking the new combined degree will have the opportunity to apply their burgeoning disciplinary knowledge to an authentic problem in industry or the community, undertake research or even pursue an entrepreneurship opportunity. 

This “challenge” component of our new degree will be tailored to the individual student. For example, a student with ambitions to go into business may undertake a work placement in a multinational company. A student committed to community engagement may undertake a project looking at indigenous housing supply. A student wishing to proceed to study at a doctoral level may embark on an in-depth research project specific to their academic interests. Or a student wanting to start a new venture will have the opportunity to participate in an entrepreneurship program.

Students working collaboratively around a table.

While the bachelor of advanced studies is noncompulsory, we believe it reflects the future of undergraduate education. We are committed to the vision of the next generation of graduates emerging from university better prepared for the lifetime of challenges they will face. They will be better prepared for roles in the community, better equipped with the skills employers tell us they want to see, and better prepared to create their own future, thus making them more competitive in a globalised innovation economy.

We have a proud history of producing leaders across all walks of life, from prime ministers and premiers to doctors and chief executives. As a higher education provider we have an obligation to ensure that the next generation is presented with the same, if not better, opportunities as our past students. As the global economy and workforce change, so must the way in which we teach our students the skills they need.

When students come to university they rightly expect lively challenges, interdisciplinary collaboration and real-world experience. We now have a curriculum model that delivers on those expectations, ensuring that our graduates are better placed than ever to become the leaders of tomorrow.


Dr Michael Spence is the University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal. This article was first published in The Australian.