The digital era has brought new challenges for universities. As well as the ever-rising set of expectations from their students, the tertiary education sector is under pressure to turn out graduates who are ready and able to work in digital businesses.

If they don’t respond, universities risk becoming irrelevant as students look elsewhere for an education.

Professor Michael Gilding, Faculty Pro Vice-Chancellor Swinburne University of Technology, notes that universities aren’t immune to the disruption that is being experienced in the commercial world — but older universities do enjoy a certain level of “insulation”.

“The old universities have the advantage of incumbency. They have the advantage that they have the prestige and the mystique. And they have their alumni who leave them large amounts which insulates them from market pressure,” Gilding said at a press lunch hosted by Tableau yesterday.

“Universities are a little bit insulated from normal commercial pressures and there is a risk that they don’t respond to the new demands and the new skills that we require.”

Swinburne, which was formed as a technical college over 100 years ago and only became a university 25 years ago, doesn’t have the kind of status that allows for complacency.

“We’ve always been in the challenger space. We don’t have the advantages of incumbency,” Gilding said.

Gilding said the digital world had bought challenges with students that “expect enrolling in university to be just as easy as it is to set up a Facebook account.”

“Universities are challenged by their students, [and] they are challenged also in their relationship with business that will employ the students… that they are coming out with the skills that are useful for businesses.”

To meet that demand Swinburne University launched the Master of Digital Business Management (MDBM) degree earlier this year. It includes units on new and emerging technologies and business models, incorporating cyber security, business innovation and transformation, information systems principles in enterprise IT architecture, digital asset management, IT and data governance, systems development and professional IT services management.

The newest component of the course, announced yesterday, is a unit on business analytics and data visualisation that was co-created with software provider Tableau.

The university was originally a Tableau customer as it sought to get a grip on its own data but the relationship evolved when the university’s professional staff and academics began to work together on data governance.

Dr. Paul Scifleet, Course Director of the Master of Digital Business Management, says the course will raise awareness about the use of data analytics in everyday business scenarios.

“For our business students it’s not about being a data scientist, it’s about being data literate to the point where they can make informed business decisions,” Scifleet said.

“By collaboratig with Tableau to teach Business Analytics and Visualisation, we are shifting data science from an inaccessible horizon of future work to the desktop of today’s postgraduate management students. As leaders of digital change, they are learning how to ask the right questions of data, to better inform the decisions they make to address current, real world and applied business needs.”

The shortage of data analytics professionals is an ongoing concern says Nigel Mendonca, ANZ Country Manager, Tableau.

“Collaboration between the government, private sector and educators is essential to up-skill the workforce of today and embed data literacy in the workforce of tomorrow,” Mendonca said.

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