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Adapt to a rapidly changing world

We live in a rapidly changing world. The future is forever approaching and always arriving. Happy days or challenging times; it’s not always easy to predict. Technology, for example, can help us in our work, but sometimes it can replace us. We owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to be prepared.

Education is the passport to the future. It helps us navigate the shocks and stresses of life events and adapt more easily to a world in which change is accelerating. It provides security for current and future generations.

We live in a rapidly changing world. The future is forever approaching and always arriving. Happy days or challenging times; it’s not always easy to predict. Technology, for example, can help us in our work, but sometimes it can replace us. We owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to be prepared.


Education is the passport to the future. It helps us navigate the shocks and stresses of life events and adapt more easily to a world in which change is accelerating. It provides security for current and future generations.

Study with the online experts

There are now many ‘johnny-come-lately’ universities in online education. UNE is the only online University that has been awarded the maximum 5 stars for Overall Satisfaction, every year for 13 years*. UNE has been delivering distance education since 1955 – that’s longer than any other Australian university. Perhaps that’s why our students continue to rate us so highly for student satisfaction and teaching quality.

Online Degrees

Study online across three study periods with 24/7 online tutor support. If you don’t have entry qualifications, our free Pathways Enabling Course gives you entry and credit to most of UNE’s undergraduate degrees.


Applications to start in March are now open.

Five different devices with the green UNE star on each screen showing a total of five stars

Bespoke Courses

Study just the parts of a degree you need

UNE’s new Bespoke Courses now provide students who are not attracted to a full degree, with the freedom to choose units from selected undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and assemble them into your own short ‘Bespoke Course’. Bespoke Courses sit alongside UNE’s comprehensive offering of full undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

A University, committed since its birth, to helping adults adapt to a changing world

The University of New England was established to provide higher education to people socially and geographically outside the conventions of metropolitan universities.


Always slightly apart from other universities, UNE has cut its own path in order to help its students gain the knowledge they need to navigate a changing world.


As a pioneering provider of distance education, it broke down the walls of the campus and rebuilt the educational enterprise on the premise that an external degree could be taught with the same rigour as one delivered on-campus.


Even after this model had proven successful for a decade, UNE’s first Vice-Chancellor, Dr Robert Madgwick, had to fight the Australian Universities Commission when it tried to separate distance education from universities in the mid-1960s.


UNE’s first Vice-Chancellor, Sir Bert Madgwick


Madgwick was a formative influence on UNE, and through his championing of distance education, on Australia’s higher education sector in general.


From the first, Madgwick signalled his determination to shape the University’s education and research on behalf of those who use it, not those who deliver it.


Educated at the universities of Sydney and Oxford, Madgwick had also seen the power of education at work outside the university environment.

As a young man, he worked as a country schoolteacher. In the late 1930s he delivered the University of Sydney’s adult education program throughout rural NSW, and that experience led to him becoming Director of the Australian Army’s education program in the Second World War, charged with educating soldiers so they could return to a changed post-war Australia as engaged, employable citizens.


These experiences, he later recalled, gave him a straightforward perspective on his job as an educator: it was to “…find out what people want, give it to them, and go on from there … and never take the easy way and start with what I think they need”.


Madgwick’s unusually broad outlook on education extended to who had access to it.


I believe,” he said, “… that a university education should be available in a democratic society to all who can benefit from it, and further, that we cannot as a nation, waste our educational potential by leaving untrained and uneducated to the highest level, men and women who are willing to subject themselves to the personal and intellectual discipline which is essential in external students.


Madgwick also understood the need to retrain to adapt to a changing work environment, even at a time when jobs were for life. Observing in the 1930s that the theories he taught as a lecturer in economic analysis at University of Sydney had been superseded, he switched his teaching to economic history.


When he took the reins of Australia’s first regional university in 1954, Madgwick reflected that, “…we have an unexcelled opportunity to make a contribution to University thought and practice in the 20th Century, because we are new and because our traditions are not yet formally established…”


UNE is no longer new, but it remains free of the encrustations of tradition that freight older, larger universities.


Instead, true to Madgwick’s democratic ideas on education, UNE’s tradition is to look outward, to support those who want to adapt to a world constantly changing around them.


This focus on students, and recognising its students as individuals with individual needs, has ensured that UNE has earned the maximum five-star rating for “overall student experience” in the annual Good Universities Guide rankings for 12 years running.


UNE’s student support begins at the beginning. The University provides options to help all prospective students, whatever their background or circumstances in life, a pathway into higher education should they have the capacity and determination for study.


Recognising the accelerating change occurring in the workplace, UNE has also taken pioneering steps to unbundle learning from the business of getting a degree. “Bespoke courses” allow students to select just those elements of degree courses that they need to thrive in the workplace — or any other place — and to mix-and-match bespoke courses across disciplines.


While studying, UNE provides external students with a distance teaching program honed over 60 years — no other university in the world has this depth of experience in distance education — supported by an award-winning Information Technology (IT) infrastructure.


In 2017, UNE introduced the last step in its delivery of online education: online exams, which are being progressively rolled out through 2018.


Because of its origins and outlook, UNE has become an agent of transformation, changing for the better the lives of individuals, communities (whether they are bound by geography, culture or practice) and humanity’s relationship to the planet.


The 21st Century is full of noise, through which UNE sends a clear, strong signal: if you wish to educate yourself to thrive in a changing world, then whatever your circumstances, the University will support you.


Good Universities Guide Five Star Seal for Overall Student Experience
Good Universities Guide Five Star Seal for Teaching Quality
Good Universities Guide Five Star Seal for Student Support

Flexibility the key to uni study for people whose jobs are changing rapidly

The Australian economy is currently transforming. We are moving away from a resource-based economy while simultaneously dealing with the automation of many tasks previously performed by people. The Chief Economist of the Bank of England recently estimated that as many as 80 million jobs in the US and 15 million in the UK will be replaced by robots or by artificial intelligence in the near future. While this obviously includes many unskilled or semi-skilled jobs it is also predicted that large parts of the work of accountants and lawyers for example can and will be automated.


Not all is doom and gloom, despite the reports of jobs disappearing and increased underemployment. I read an article recently that Amazon is creating more jobs than it destroys, they are different jobs but they are jobs. The Progressive Policy Institute in Washington has estimated that new e-commerce jobs outnumber what they refer to as the bricks and mortar jobs in retail, by 54,000 in the past year alone.

"if we want a flexible workforce, able to cope with the changing employment market we must enable people to tailor their education to their own and society’s needs."
But this does highlight the need for change, for flexibility and for life-long learning. This is becoming a fact of life and if we want a flexible workforce, able to cope with the changing employment market we must enable people to tailor their education to their own and society’s needs.

We need to understand that a mature age student studying at tertiary level for the first time, or coming back to study after many years in the work force approaches study differently to an 18 year old school leaver.

University of New England was the first regional university in Australia and the first to offer “distance education”.

In the words of the first Vice-Chancellor Robert Madgwick the teaching each student receives should “be specifically designed to help him. It should not merely be the sort of teaching other students get who are interested in other things….. The organisation of teaching by departments is well enough when the aim is to produce a specialist. Its purpose is to advance the subject through specialised teaching. Its danger is that the subject may become more important than the student – and to me the student not the subject must remain the central feature of the university.”

How much more important now even than back in 1955 when these words were written. The ethos of the university has always been to help to overcome regional educational disadvantage, to give people who were capable of completing a tertiary education, the opportunity to do so, unhindered by problems of distance.

In the 21st century the constraining factors are more likely to be time than physical distance and the “distance” education has become “online” education. But the intention is the same.

When we identified a group of working adults who wanted shorter, more flexible courses that could help them to prepare for the changes they saw coming in their work life we looked at how we could respond to this need. Our Bespoke Courses at UNE were offered to cater for the needs of this group of students. They can choose either the fundamental or the most advanced units from among our regular offerings, or a combination of both. They can, if they would rather, mix and match units from across different fields of study entirely. They receive the same support as are our degree students and receive a Certificate of Completion for each unit and for the completed Bespoke Course.


Nested qualifications, alternative exit points, flexible submission times for assignments, which accommodate work commitments are all responses to student needs. Continuous enrolment and exams anytime may be future adaptations, if they help students get the education they need.


Flexibility of offerings and exit points is not about lowering standards. It is taking what we know about pedagogy, about student needs and preferences and enabling people to get the skills they will require to continue to contribute to a strong inclusive society in the face of rapid change.


We must accept the fact that if we want to avoid massive middle-age unemployment, if we want a vibrant, healthy economy, we must help those whose current jobs are changing rapidly or disappearing altogether, to get the skills they need to transition to the new economy. These people do not have the luxury of taking three years or even one year off work, away from family responsibilities, away from the financial imperatives to earn as they acquire the new skills. They are likely to take longer to complete formal courses, they may hesitate to commit to long term courses of study. I spoke recently to one former student who has started a coursework Masters degree twice, only to have to drop out, twice, when work commitments become too onerous. He still wants to complete a Masters degree but is unlikely to enrol a third time, unless there is some flexibility, maybe via nested qualifications, to allow him to juggle high level, time consuming work commitments, family and study.


We need to take student demographics and learning needs into account. We need to accept that the higher education sector is not homogeneous and that the traditional 50 minute lecture and the traditional three year Bachelor degree does not suit everyone’s needs. We need diversity in our sector, not just in what we teach but also in how we teach.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabelle Duncan
Professor Annabelle Duncan, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer of the University of New England
Article first published in the third HIGHER ED.ITION for 2017, The Newsletter of Universities Australia.

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