October 3, 2018

UNE’s online reach makes it an inviting target for a merger

Keith Houghton

This year Purdue University in the US created Purdue University Global. It came into existence from its acquisition in April last year of the Kaplan University operation, which had ceased operations after a period of mixed fortunes. 

Through a series of what appears to be complex contracts, Purdue uses the “back office” (that is, the online expertise) of Kaplan to support a large array of online educational programs targeting mostly part-time adult students. The offerings attract thousands of American (and foreign) students.

Some see the PU-G strategy as an attempt to push forward the online educational programs of Purdue in a highly efficient manner. The move provides more easily accessible educational offerings of a mainstream university that is putting itself at the leading edge of online education.

Australia does not yet have the same type of institutional arrangements; however, there are a small number of universities that have strategic engagement in, and significant levels of, online education (other than the special case of Open Universities Australia).

With the recent announcement of the retirement of University of New England vice-chancellor Annabelle Duncan, it is worth reflecting on one aspect of the presence and effect of online education in the Australia university sector.

There are several higher education institutions achieving significant productivity growth. Of the 13 universities that achieved productivity growth of greater than 30 per cent across the period from 2011 to 2016, there was only one smaller institution (with equivalent full-time student load of less than 15,000) that achieved this level of improvement — that being UNE. It achieved productivity growth of 35.2 per cent across the period.

This is markedly higher than other institutions in the Regional University Network, where the mean level of growth is just more than 12 per cent. No other RUN member achieved the efficiency position that UNE has (see the chart in which RUN institutions are shown in green).