A year of transition
For Open Universities Australia, 2014 was a year of significant and important change. A year of transformation. A year in which we turned what had been promising initiatives on paper into active ventures. A year in which we reshaped and reformed critical elements of our established businesses. And we did it all with one ultimate goal in mind: to give our students, now and in the future, a better education experience than ever before.
A year of transformation
At some point in the future, when historians and educationalists look back on the events of 2014 in the Australian tertiary education sector, they will reflect on what a time of dynamic change it was; a time in which the regulatory and public funding landscape caused students, institutions, government and the general public to think long and hard about the value of higher education; a time in which new vocational private providers entered the education market and, in some cases, came unstuck; and a time in which massive open online courses (or MOOCs, as they are called) didn’t exactly live up to bold predictions that they would decimate higher education, but nevertheless showed that traditional forms of online education wouldn’t cut it in a consumer-led digital world.
It was against this backdrop that Open Universities Australia (OUA) underwent its own year of transformation. From a company that, only a few years ago, comprised a single line of business – the aggregation of universities’ higher education subjects – OUA has transformed itself into a provider of online education across the whole of the tertiary education sector.
In addition to our traditional higher education open access, unit-by-unit business, we have added full degree programs.
We enjoyed our first year of operations in a greenfield vocational education and training company, Open Training Institute, and saw enrolments in our free education platform, Open2Study, easily surpass 500,000 from students in more than 180 countries around the world. We took over full operational responsibility for our corporate training subsidiary, e3Learning, which we had acquired in 2013. We signed the first contracts in our white label business, OUA Education Solutions which provides a series of services to universities, other educational institutions, government and corporates wanting to design, develop and deliver online education and training courses.
All of these changes were planned by the Board; we anticipated that they would have a short-term effect on the earnings of the company, and in 2014 that proved to be so. However, the changes have set up the company to be stronger in the future and less exposed to the risks and vulnerability that come
from having a single line of business with a single business model in dynamic markets.
During the year, we farewelled a number of directors: our former Chairman, Sam Weiss, Paula Allen, David Phillips, David de Campo, Professor Margaret Gardner, Professor Judith Sachs and Professor Adam Shoemaker.
On behalf of the Board, I would like to extend our appreciation for the significant contribution they made to OUA over long periods of time; a contribution without which OUA would not be the company that it is today.
I would also like to thank and commend my fellow Board members, our CEO, Paul Wappett, and our OUA staff for doing the hard work and making the hard decisions that have needed to be made to ensure that OUA remains relevant in today’s digital world.
We face 2015 with a sense of great optimism and excitement as we go about entrenching OUA’s position as Australia’s leader in online learning.
Professor S. Bruce Dowton — Chairman
Board of directors
Professor S. Bruce Dowton
Nominee Director – Macquarie University
Chairman of the Board More info
Professor S. Bruce DowtonNominee Director – Macquarie University
Chairman of the Board
Professor S. Bruce Dowton is the Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University. He is a paediatrician, clinical geneticist, molecular biologist, researcher and academic who has served as a senior medical executive at universities, healthcare institutions and consulting organisations in Australia and the United States. He has also held visiting Professorial and External Examiner appointments at several overseas universities.
Mr David Pitt
Nominee Director – Monash University
Member of Finance, Audit & Risk Management Committee More info
Mr David PittNominee Director – Monash University
Member of Finance, Audit & Risk Management Committee
David Pitt is the Senior Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer of Monash University. Prior to joining Monash University David held senior positions at Telstra in the areas of research, engineering, human resources, finance, television, superannuation and offshore entities.
Professor David Wood
Nominee Director – Curtin University
Professor David WoodNominee Director – Curtin University
Professor David Wood is the Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor International at Curtin University. Professor Wood is an accomplished researcher in urban and regional planning and tourism development who leads CSIRO’s Flagship Cluster Projects, examining barriers to the implementation of climate change service.
Professor Ian O’Connor
Nominee Director – Griffith University
Professor Ian O’ConnorNominee Director – Griffith University
Professor Ian O’Connor is the Vice-Chancellor of Griffith University. Professor O’Connor is widely published in the field of juvenile justice, child welfare and the future directions of social work and human services.
Mr Paul Beard
Nominee Director – University of South Australia
Chair – Finance, Audit & Risk Management Committee
Mr Paul BeardNominee Director – University of South Australia Chair – Finance, Audit & Risk Management Committee
Paul Beard is the Chief Operating Officer at the University of South Australia, with responsibility for finance, facilities, IT, planning and institutional analytics. Prior to joining the University of South Australia, Paul held senior roles in both the private and public sectors in Australia and the United Kingdom. Paul is a Chartered Accountant.
Mr Stephen Beall
Nominee Director – Swinburne University of Technology
Member of Finance, Audit & Risk Management Committee
Mr Stephen BeallNominee Director – Swinburne University of Technology Member of Finance, Audit & Risk Management Committee
Stephen Beall is the Vice-President (Strategy and Business Innovation) at Swinburne University of Technology. Stephen has extensive management experience, and has previously held executive roles in the areas of employee relations, workers’ compensation, occupational health and safety and business development. Stephen is a member of the Board’s Finance, Audit & Risk Management Committee.
Professor Gill Palmer
Nominee Director – RMIT University
Professor Gill PalmerNominee Director – RMIT University
Professor Gill Palmer is Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic at RMIT University. Professor Palmer has experience in education, government and private sector management having held senior roles in the university sector in Australia.
Mr Paul Wappett
Chief Executive Officer*
Mr Paul WappettChief Executive Officer*
Paul Wappett is the Chief Executive Officer of Open Universities Australia (OUA). Paul is focused on ensuring that OUA provides its students with access to a world class education.
*Not a member of the Board
Retired in 2014: Mr Sam Weiss, Professor Margaret Gardner, Mr David Phillips, Mr David De Campo, Ms Paula Allen, Professor Judyth Sachs, Professor Adam Shoemaker
Executive General Manager - Corporate Services (CFO)
Matthew WalshExecutive General Manager - Corporate Services
During 2014, we implemented new real-time operational reporting across our consumer facing business lines to provide a single view on the performance of our sales operations. We have decreased our time to market of business change significantly due to improvements in our project management and IT practices. We have started integrating and consolidating our technology platforms, and expanded our cloud solution and student management solutions by setting up robust foundations that enable us to scale efficiently and service students and clients in Australia and internationally.
Executive General Manager - People, Performance & Culture
Carlos SchäferExecutive General Manager - People, Performance & Culture
In 2014, we rolled out OUA’s values – Bold, Innovative, Learner-centred, Passionate and United – and embedded them in the systems, processes and structures that are the engine room of OUA. Those values drive us as an organisation to deliver great learning outcomes and interactions for all our students.
Chief Executive Officer
Paul WappettChief Executive Officer
Whilst 2014 tested our resolve, we emerged much stronger, and our early 2015 results are showing the benefit of the enormous amount of work we did. This work has brought us closer together as an organisation.
Execuive General Manager - Education Delivery
Janine HarperExecuive General Manager - Education Delivery
We signed our first clients to our OUA Education Solutions business in 2014. We’re excited about this because it gives us the opportunity to showcase the deep capability we’ve built in learning design and content development, and the best-in-market learning management system and analytics engine that we’ve created
José Herrera Perea
Executive General Manager - Professional & Corporate
José Herrera PereaExecutive General Manager - Professional & Corporate
In 2014, we adapted and prepared for our next stage of growth. We redefined the way we think about marketing to students and clients, and we deepened our conversation with lifelong learners. We expanded our e3Learning sales, learning and operation teams, which will help us to penetrate and grow all OUA’s offerings into corporate markets. We also signed a long-term partnership with ARI Services to commercialise our two-string ‘.study’ and ‘.courses’ internet domains that enable us to adapt to changes in the digital media.
Family of Brands
When Open Universities Australia was born in 1993 it was established with an important, but highly specialised, remit. Our objective was to offer open access distance education to students in remote locations via television. More than 20 years have passed since we began offering courses through the ABC, and education has changed dramatically since then. So have we.
Today, thanks in no small part to the hard work done and changes made in 2014, our organisation offers the broadest set of post-secondary online education and training programs in Australia. We do that through our principal lines of business.
Our five brands
Open Universities Australia makes undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from leading Australian universities available online.
Open Training Institute offers nationally recognised certificate and diploma qualifications.
e3Learning helps businesses stay productive and compliant by offering training, compliance and workforce management technology.
Open2Study’s four-week courses are entirely free, available to everyone and an excellent foundation for further study.
Education Solutions provides market-ready, proven technology solutions, combined with unrivalled expertise in learning and content production.
Our ownership of the ‘.study’ and ‘.courses’ domains will help us adapt to how students search for and access education.
Open Universities Australia has always adapted to a constantly changing higher education environment and to the shifting needs of students. When we were founded, the internet didn’t exist as a mainstream Home technology, mobile computing was in its infancy and university participation rates were significantly lower than they are today.
We have never been an organisation that has been comfortable standing still. Indeed, we have succeeded in no small part by identifying trends, and planning for the challenges and opportunities that come from change. In 2014 there was a drastic increase in competition in education, particularly in the online space. Hundreds of the world’s most reputable education institutions from the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia have been establishing and honing online offerings for several years. At the same time, corporate entities were also making aggressive entries into the online market. Their products, now mature, were being met by a receptive Australian audience.
What students demand
That same audience has been thinking about education differently for many years, and student expectations have been evolving in parallel with changes in digital technology. What they expect from services in other parts of their lives – greater customisation, greater mobility, a more personalised experience – they are now demanding from education. They are accepting nothing less than online education that’s completely student-centric, highly adaptable and produced at the highest quality.
Complicating things further was the ongoing debate around the future of education in Australia. The new federal government made proposals to decrease higher education funding and deregulate fees. The legislation sparked conversations about the affordability of tertiary education; both at the political level and in households around the country, people began to ask whether the long-established benefit of a degree outweighed a student debt that might now last 20 years. Was university still worth the investment?
Added together, the influx of competition, heightened student expectations and the uncertainty caused by the government’s proposals made an indelible impact on the education landscape. In this difficult and unstable new environment of 2014, we went about a process of adaptation and transformation, focusing on building trust and stability in our relationship with our most important stakeholders – students – keeping them at the centre of everything we do.
Learning more about students
During this period of change, we wanted more certainty and understanding around our students’ expectations: how online study fits into their lives and how it meets their goals and long-term aspirations.
We challenged our default view – that students always want to study from unit-to-unit – to build a deep under-standing of their motivations and what study options are right for them. We invested in our student management system to make sure our lifetime relationship with students is as strong as possible.
Equipping our students for success
A focus on Learning Analytics has given us a vital capability: a comprehensive view of how individual learners are progressing in their studies through a custom-built data-evaluation platform. Put simply, it’s a tool that helps us help students. We now have the opportunity to assist students when and where they need it most – removing potential barriers before they become a disincentive to study. We are a company that prides itself on its student support services, many of which we modified or enhanced in 2014. We redeveloped our successful preparatory unit programs, and heavily promoted our online tutoring services, leading to significantly increased use throughout the year. We also expanded our highly successful student coaching service, supporting 180% more students via student coaches in 2014 than over the same period in the previous year. These actions led to increased pass rates, fewer dropouts and an overall increase in student satisfaction.
Students should rightfully expect that the courses they are studying are of a high standard and are optimised for online delivery. With this in mind, in 2014 we undertook formal reviews of units available through Open Universities Australia, using student-driven indicators to choose the programs most requiring attention. We reviewed more than 100 units, evaluating elements such as content, structure and assessments always with this question in mind: Are we giving students a high-quality learning experience? Following the review, we collaborated with the universities that provide the units to rework the relevant courses for a better online experience. The results of the quality improvement agenda have been remarkable. In 2014, overall student satisfaction rose year-on-year for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
Students support services
- Student coaching
- Improved PREP units
- Online tutoring
- Increased pass rates
- Fewer dropouts
- Increased satisfaction
In 2012, we made the strategic decision to launch our own Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and accredited vocational education and training (VET) provider of online qualifications. This allowed us to manage the end-to-end student experience, with full control of the quality of our courses and our training platform. For many years, the VET sector in Australia had constituted a very large group of public institutions comprising almost entirely TAFEs, as well as a much smaller and disparate collection of private RTOs – but by 2014, the balance had shifted. Very large commercially-motivated companies descended upon the market, buying out (or into) existing companies or injecting significant amounts of capital into start-up ventures. For many of these large private providers, the incentive to enter the market came from what they saw as an opportunity to quickly profit from a weakening public TAFE sector, the easily-accessible government funding and continued demand for online courses. This rapid influx of new, wealthy RTOs had profound consequences on the VET landscape, some of them extremely negative. In some cases, private providers’ motives appeared to be less to do with education and more to do with rapid growth. Many students found themselves paying high fees or taking on significant debt, while at the same time receiving a poor learning experience.
Our promise to students
- Genuine value for the investment
- Transparent and up-front pricing
- A variety of payment options
- High-quality qualification
A growing level of disquiet over training quality among students, and eventually the media, led to tough questions being asked about the sector. The actions of a significant few tarnished the reputation of all those involved in vocational training. Open Training Institute had to respond and adapt its fundamental strategy to succeed in this new tumultuous environment.
To an alarming degree, we saw that the market we were now working in had been drained of one of its most vital elements: trust. The imperative to establish Open Training Institute as a provider of training that students could implicitly rely upon was even stronger than it had been during earlier stages of development. In 2014, we did this in a number of ways. A strong connection with our established higher education business was always going to be a cornerstone of Open Training Institute’s success. We understood that without being “backed by Open Universities Australia”, Open Training Institute would be viewed by many prospective students as “just another” new online vocational education provider. But as well as benefiting from Open Universities Australia’s credibility, we also wanted to adopt our parent company’s philosophy of access and equity.
Ensuring value for money
Through our pricing we endeavoured to make first-class VET qualifications accessible to as many students as possible. We set our fees with three goals in mind: To give students genuine value for their investment, to be transparent about pricing, being up-front about the total cost to our students, to give students options, including the opportunity to pay upfront, as well as in weekly or fortnightly instalments.
Building a great student experience
Even before the sector dramatically changed, we knew that there was a strong appetite for high-quality online learning experiences at the VET level. So, while some new for-profit entrants invested in inflating enrolment numbers, we invested heavily in an outstanding student experience. We believe an educational institution is nothing without its teaching and training staff, and so we made an investment in trainer resources so that each of our students would have high-quality, responsive relationships with our experienced and passionate trainers. In addition, we invested in continuous improvement of our assessment, our learning platform and our learning design (informed by our Learning Analytics engine). The outcome for students? A training experience that focuses on relevant, useful, career-enhancing professional skills.
A pathway into university
For many students, a certificate or diploma is a means to a professional end – a better opportunity within an organisation, a new job or a different career avenue altogether. For many others, however, VET study is the first step on the road to further education. In 2014 we ensured that each one of our diploma qualifications articulated into a university degree.
We began with the Open Training Institute Credit Transfer program, through which students who complete any diploma course through Open Training Institute automatically become eligible for between 4 and 8 units of credit into several bachelor degrees with Open Universities Australia:
- Bachelor of Business
- Bachelor of Business(Financial Planning)
- Bachelor of Business(Logistics and Supply Chain Management)
- Bachelor of Accounting
- Bachelor of Communication
- Bachelor of Arts
- Bachelor of Technology(Computing Studies)
It's a difficult time for business. In 2014 state, federal and industry-specific laws got tougher and companies were exposed to ever-greater risk and compliance requirements. In a time of volatility and fluctuating profit margins, companies focused on flexibility and adaptability. This task wasn't made easier by a highly fragmented, competitive corporate training market in which no player was able to offer a complete turnkey solution to an organisation's entire learning needs. Rather than using multiple vendors, business was increasingly looking to partner with trusted providers to cover all of their training and learning requirements. This was the perfect environment for e3Learning to deliver the full range of workforce training and development needs - for companies looking to upskill staff and manage contractors. e3Learning's integrated platform solutions, Sitepass and LearnForce, were expressly designed and constructed to answer the challenges faced by businesses, delivering a holistic solution for management and control of risk and compliance in the workplace.
Learning in the workplace
Given the fluid nature of the business learning environment, our LearnForce solution was constantly in development and evolved in 2014 to meet changing market demands as clients became increasingly sophisticated around self-authoring, seeking greater control and authority over the learning experience and relying less on external providers. Our integration of Sitepass and LearnForce took this one step further, giving companies a single solution for management and training of their workforce. They can now monitor and demonstrate their compliance with risk management procedures, and by ensuring that accreditation is correct and up-to-date, every contractor can be smoothly onboarded, inducted, and trained, all via a single, consistent interface.
Solutions for all types of companies
- Small to medium enterprise Businesses with 500 or fewer employees.
- Large enterprise Businesses with more than 500 employees.
- Partners Creating mutually beneficial partnership.
Ticking a box simply isn't enough anymore. Industries are now demanding more effective, immersive training for their workforces. We renewed and expanded our courses to specifically be designed in a multi-modal format for all learner types, with accessibility and multi-device functionality to be fore. Compliance and clinical courses are now regularly updated in terms of both content and technical capabilities, a result of our fresh approach to partnerships, bringing learners closer to experts in their relevant business fields. We deepened our relationships with corporate clients and focused on helping them achieve their business objectives. In 2014, our internal teams were reconfigured to better support clients' needs, with dedicated product specialists appointed to give us greater understanding and flexibility in responding to industry demands for more effective, immersive training.
At a stroke, the onboarding of the e3Learning business in July 2014 added more than 500 clients and 1.5 million online learners to the OUA group business, and provided an international dimension with operations in the United Kingdom, Middle East and Indonesia for the first time. We achieved an important milestone when we started introducing our tertiary courses and qualifications across our new expanded international client portfolio.
- A universal contractor management system designed to manage contractor compliance in real-time.
- An online learning management system(LMS) simplifying the delivery, tracking and reporting of courseware.
Open2Study was established in the midst of an education revolution brought about by the phenomenon that had become known as MOOCs - massive open online courses. Organisations around the world were experimenting with various free online education models, and we saw an opportunity, not to piggy-back on a new fad, but to try something unique.
We created our model with several objectives in mind: As a research and development hub, allowing us to trial approaches to learning and teaching, new learning technologies, new approaches to student engagement for potential use across other business lines to broaden Open Universities Australia's international profile to give student a taste of online study - and it's many benefits - at no cost and with no obligation, but with a view to ultimately enrolling them in one of our paid offerings. By the end of 2013, Open2Study was firmly established and was offering 32 four-week courses in areas such as anthropology, financial planning, management, psychology, physics, agriculture and astronomy. We had enrolled more than 200,000 students from 180 countries.
- Students from
- More than 500,000
- 65,000 students
- More than 6 million
minutes viewing time
New courses, new milestones
In 2014 we built on that foundation, introducing 17 new courses and continuing to encourage student to see Open2Study as a gateway into further online education. Enrolments grew rapidly. We ended the year with more than half a million enrolments, and saw our largest ever cohort of 65,000 students all studying simultaneously. Students were fully engaging with the learning material as video content ticked over to 6 million minutes worth of viewing time during the year.
An emphasis on quality
Strong student numbers were only half the story. Completion rates continued to be well above averages in the free course segment of the education industry. We surveyed our students, and their responses were outstanding:
- 97.08% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that it was easy to navigate the Open2Study website
- 97.85% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied overall with Open2Study
Many tertiary education institutions have for years offered courses delivered via the internet without having reformulated and adapted the learning design, content and assessment to a new medium. Retrofitting traditional content into the online space simply doesn't work, and bridging the gap between the two isn't easy. Getting it right is a challenge. In 2004, we started applying our insights into online student behaviours, and implemented the end-to-end suite of services and products that universities and other organisations were seeking. We signed our first clients to this new line of business, and established a pipeline of new work that will see us deliver value to a range of educational institutions in 2015 and beyond. OUA Education Solutions began commercialising our online learning services and products by the delivery of high-quality online courses in the market. As a white-label business powering the technology and content behind an institution's own brand. OUA Education Solutions lets educators concentrate on what they're truly good at, respond to market changes quickly and become more efficient in their operations.
The market was demanding a robust and scalable online learning platform that was adaptable and fit for both the higher education and vocational education and training sectors. But this was not going to be enough. The solution had to make sure that students were getting a highly optimised online learning experience. Our platforms needed to adapt to the constant changes in student studying behaviour and expectations. In March 2014 our learning management system, which we had been perfecting with successful implementations for both Open2Study and Open Training Institute, reached maturity and was ready to be launched into the tertiary education market.
Proof of concept
In 2014, we developed a complex and highly specialised undergraduate course from scratch. It acted as: A demonstration tool, giving us the chance to showcase our high-quality online learning services and products to clients, and a testing tool, allowing us to trial Open Universities Australia's ability to respond to client needs by rapidly producing high-quality educational content within tight timeframes and budgets
Reshaping how we approach education
Our providers' and partners' businesses are a key focus 2015 and beyond. The associated Learning Analytics engine is a key pillar of OUA Education Solutions and one of Open Universities Australia's most important company-wide projects in 2014. The engine, completed in September, has reshaped how we approach reporting, intelligence gathering, and the fundamentals of the student learning experience. Analytics provides a real-time view of learning progress, of how students are interacting with the content, their peers and their teachers, and how they are performing academically. It has the potential to radically transform how institutions look at optimising content structure and student experience.
- Learning design
- Student retention