The Frontiers Institute - education

The Frontiers Institute has scoped novel learning products and short courses to serve needs identified through investigative work across industries and circumstances. Sandra Welsman is a long-time practitioner and analyst of organisation strategy, cultures, people and power, and success drivers in industries, businesses and agencies. Decades of frontline change management experience  and achieving results in complex hands-on situations, from corporations, to government business enterprises (GBEs) to regional small business SME to public GBEs, provides a grounded basis for evaluating issues in education planning, structures, service delivery and course programs.

The realities of leading and doing business in commerce and the complex arms of government seem to be at a great distance from Australian academics including  many of those who lecture thousands of students taking business courses.  This gap has been witnessed regularly while progressing strategic planning exercises, critical reviews and work on regulation issues and interfaces, as well as ongoing research into university and vocational education disciplinary traditions, positioning and change. >>blue-sky

Frontiers Institute initiatives aim to assist a wave of change in tertiary education to serve rising workplace complexity. These include investigations, research-scholarship across disciplines, on policy and regulation, and on teaching & learning itself (T&L) plus contributions to national and international debate through conferences and published material SSRN, and in specialised courses and program developed to meet multiple needs.

Education investigations, ideas and initiatives | 2013-2004

2012-2013. The Sugar Advisory Services Development Program (SASDP)

The SASDP was designed as a major component of the Sugar RD&E Reform Program out forward in the Welsman Report 2011 to build advisory services across the sugar industry including by upskilling advisers operating in adjacent industries including horticulture. This would be an intensive industry led field education program to operate for a year from early 2012 while RD&E restructuring was underway. The SASDP was to build local cane advisory capability and wider field advisory networks through seminars and short-course training in sugarcane technical and advising, and working with groups to assist their balancing of local re-arrangements. .

By mid 2012, the SASDP had built a broad field network including a diversity of attuned practitioners with more knowledge of cane, to work with current and potential cane growers, and millers. The Network, with electronic communications, would facilitate outward flow of knowledge and adoption of R&D findings and packages. Network participants would also be encouraging to analyse and explain issues and to provide sharper, considered feedback on problems for Sugar Research Australia and researchers.

Over one year, the SASDP exceeded all targets set in February 2012 and most of these by July 2012. This was a noteworthy program in its reach and timing, and in the efforts by many from different groups in developing, delivering and supporting participation in the short courses, work-shops and seminars. The Sugar Advisory Service Development Program:

• attracted over 560 registrations for nearly 50 events across all sugarcane regions

• built the Sugar Advisory Services Network – for handing over to the Sugar Research Australia Professional Extension and Communications Unit

• involved over 350 participants, many attending more than one course – people carrying out all types of advisory, extension and business roles, a number new to sugarcane

• harnessed 30+ developers and presenters – BSES, PEC, USQ, QUT, QDAFF and other specialists

• delivered the target 10 different short courses, seminars, workshops across locations

• these course activities were identified through initial focus groups, creative analysis of viewpoints, and an electronic survey to clarify weighting – and included Selection of Appropriate Sugarcane Varieties; Management of Nutrients; Management of Canegrubs; Management of Weeds; Machinery Inspection Workshops; Irrigation-Water-Soils I and II; Group extension skills – Inspire, Engage, Inform!; Evidence based change – Scientific Farm Trials; Understanding the Sugar Industry Value chain (grower-miller interfaces), and Accessing and applying Knowledge and Tools.

The unique, timely, practical and effective Sugar Advisory Services Development Program addressed an immediate need and has provided sets of materials and a platform for expansion of extension and communication of research-based developments into the production sectors, and equally from the field to researchers to enhance the relevance of research and its potential adoption.


Productivity Gained – An Inventive Associate Degree Model to Bridge Australian Tertiary Education Divides. WACE International Conference Proceedings, Philadelphia June 2011 SSRN download

Abstract: In Australia, university-based ‘higher education’ and work-skills oriented vocational education and training (VET) have long been separate systems. This has suited academics and some industry groups, but the marketplace of students and employers is pressuring for change. With new Australian policy goals to substantially increase tertiary education participation, these embedded, theoretical separations must be conquered.

Segments of the Australian post-school demographic are not well-served by educators split by tradition. Individuals with capacity but not an academic-learning bent have limited choices. In the past they built experience through work, using their initiative, cleverness and people skills. Now, backed by families urging education of status as a platform for 50 years of work, and employers facing work complexities, the demand is for quite different tertiary products.

This novel Associate Degree model has been developed to integrate Australian higher and vocational education systems. Associate Degree students completing a two year program would achieve a qualification with modern status, attuned to workplace demands, plus potentially 1 to 3 usable vocational certificates usable across industries, and two-thirds of a bachelor degree.

The Associate Degree model can be applied in many learning areas. It is especially suited to technical fields (including Construction, Engineering, Finance, Aviation, Agriculture), where skill competencies in VET packages can guide parts of the Associate Degree units, and where both students and employers can directly benefit by the student obtaining applied skills certificates as Work-Integrated Learning.


Course materials – business consulting legal thinking and risk management module. Distance delivery. Outline Australian legal system; Contracts & contracting; Trade practices and advising – due care and skill, fit for purpose; Consultant performance – privacy, confidentiality, negligence, professional codes; Interactions, who is your neighbour?

Thanks for all your hard work on the material. It came up really well and will be a valuable resource to the students embarking on a consulting career.

I’ve learned lots of good stuff with this module!  Student co-ordinator 9.2009


Scoping Study on Skills Issues: regional NSW. Frontiers Insight was asked to investigate the extent and features of skills issues generally and in sectors. Healthcare, manufacturing, trades, agrifood and creative industries, plus tourism and professional services. Skills shortages and gaps in workplaces. Change and people factors, 5-10 year outlook, capacity development. 1.2009. regional plans and projects


Associate Degrees. 2008-2010. A unique activity initiated by Frontiers Insight, working with TAFE, universities, other educators, industry and community-government partners. Four completely new ADs structured to attract people into industries, provide multiple skills and academic and VET qualifications. Bridging sectors that ‘officially’ separate academic and skills education is a key frontline, being addressed by FI through Associate Degrees and contribution to reviews.

… a professional, thorough and innovative report [for] action. DSRD 11.2008

Impressively synthesised, and challenging in the right kind of way. Program Director 5.2009

Your report is being hailed as amazing. CEO 6.2009


The Promise of Good Teaching – getting much more from student surveys (2008) SJWelsman. Refereed paper in proceedings of Australian Universities Quality Forum (AUQF) on Quality & Standards in Higher Education: Making a Difference’, Canberra July 2008. paper.| ssrn


Tertiary education structures and systems – analysis and review arguments: dissecting policy-regulation-entrepreneurial frameworks, case for a modern single tertiary education system. Major input for the Review of Australian Higher Education 7.2008. >> | >>

University evaluation systems: empirical and scholarly investigations

  • Doctoral experience questionnaire analysis. Beyond statistical benchmarking, adding-value to data by analysing all comments and deriving key messages under six issue areas (goals-expectations, supervisor and supervision, skill development and learning, research and intellectual environment, access to resources and expertise, institutional infrastructure). Individual reports developed for each of six Faculties to contribute to their higher degree research (HDR) outcomes, 2007.
  • Student evaluation of teaching: mapping usage, application, impact. Frontiers Insight commissioned to distil, through analysis and interviews with Faculty and School leaders, positives and issues in usage and usefulness of SET surveys. Reports for Deans 2006.

Lateral thinking on skills for agri-food industries, Australian Farm Institute Farm Policy Journal, skills issue, Sep 2008. regional P&P


To Boldly go! Can Bright Students realise their Learning Potential at Universities? SJ Welsman, refereed paper published in proceedings of the RMIT Partnerships for World Graduates conference, Nov 2007. This conference looked at ways of educating graduates for the global workforce, and challenges to be faced in restructuring courses to meet evolving demands of the global economy. Key points of this paper (ssrn) include:

  • Integrative thinking will be a key to success, whatever the goal, as globalisation advances. While some international academics have broadcast the need for new modes of thinking in universities, in Australia, after a few years of courting interdisciplinary thinking there are signs of a retreat encapsulated by an old adage ‘Society has problems, Universities have departments’.
  • Yet, many of the brightest students entering each Australian university are boldly embracing diverse fields in their choice of undergraduate double-degree programs. Are Australian universities able to ensure undergraduates who commit to double degrees can learn to their full potential? Especially, say, those choosing to study Science and Law, where the academic stand-off is stark?
  • This research exercise applied a phenomenographic technique, and identified four qualitatively distinct student ways of thinking about integration of science and law: Accepting, Forming, Utilising, and Questioning. Students were looking for high-level integration and intellectual leadership to extend them into arguing and testing levels – which are daily essentials in industry, policy and community enterprise.
  • Recognising the complexities future graduates will need to handle, there are social, economic and commercial arguments for lifting student thinking, as educators, universities should proudly enable students to reach the ‘extended abstract’ (Biggs). My research indicates this does not occur readily. It seems universities and academics expect more of young incomers than of themselves.

Double or Nothing! Boosting returns to science from double degrees. Chemistry in Australia, Magazine of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute Inc (on invitation) March 2008 issue.
Double or nothing! Clever thinking, double-degree frustration and returns to Science.National Uniserve Symposium 27-28 September 2007, Science Teaching and Learning Research including Threshold Concepts, University of Sydney. Proceedings, Gifted and Talent Forum Presentation.  ssrn |


A Science : Law stand-off. International dimensions, local implications. Research paper delivered to 22nd Law & Society Conference Griffith University Dec 2004. Regulation analysis


Fit for purpose? A consumer look into qualitative research models. Scope: Qualitative research methods in worldly action; Towards paradigm and procedure; Five traditions-of-inquiry (Biography, Phenomenology, Grounded Theory, Ethnography, Case Study); Further ‘genres of research’ (Phenomenography, Hermeneutics, Action Research, Delphi); Looking laterally at qualitative, quantitative, empirical distinctions. Posted on websites 2006. paper | ssrn

  • This Thinking-Working Paper was prepared as a Professional Inquiry project. It starts from basics and includes features that would likely be unwelcome in a paper heading toward formal publication. Such as, mechanics, personal reflection and rhetorical comment tangled with the investigation and analysis. Also sizeable quotes and listings of potential sources! For me, these provide context, illustrative evidence, and a record for later reference and usage. More books and articles have materialised since – but this covers enough ground! I particularly like my analysis around ‘empirical’ and its nuanced usage. sjw

Investigations and working papers in-development 2004-2009 include:
Law-Science double degrees: There is an expanding literature, general and scholarly, on importance of interdisciplinary thinking to address complex societal questions. Government and University policy statements encourage, even require, cross-disciplinary research and allude to interdisciplinarity in teaching. Implementation is a different matter. This project extends investigations since 2003 into questions and practices at interfaces of academic disciplines and professions, with particular attention to intersections of Science and Law and Business. Areas being explored include knowledge distinctions, academic practice  in research and supervision, curriculum development, teaching and learning.

Interdisciplinary ideas and university law courses – an initial DRI investigation, Australia:  This working and discussion paper reports part of a exploration initiated in 2004 when pressures to achieve effective interdisciplinary thinking and action within Australian universities were on the rise. Industry and government depend routinely on clever, integrated analysis, and the world’s big problems increasingly demand multi-lateral thinkers and doers. Yet, even as university leaders were promising interdisciplinarity, signals at academic level were quite different.

With reference to international and Australian debate, this paper:
(a) distinguishes cross-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary
(b) applies a new qualitative technique, the DRI Investigation (Direction, Response, Issues)
(c) and for selected universities, locates policy responses to The Interdisciplinary Direction
(d) then evaluates apparent actions in their Law courses/teaching and discusses alignment.

Universities say they are building interdisciplinarity but this ‘action’ tends to be characterised by grouping discipline specialists on projects, each to think on and handle a part. While this may generate research and reports, because discipline experts hold-back from questioning another’s territory, new teaching and learning paradigms will not readily arise. paper|ssrn

Teaching in a Scholarly Way: A scenario, five measures and thee! Explores international debate within ranks of educationists about need for policies requiring academics to pursue teaching scholarship. Some see ‘scholarship of teaching and learning … bringing to teaching the same rigor of inquiry and the same commitment to public sharing, critique, and evaluation of pedagogical practice as to research’ in subject fields. In theory, individual academics are expected, on top of research in their own areas, to obtain and act on student and peer reviews, publish original research into teaching and learning in local and international journals, and present evidence of T&L excellence and critical reflection in promotion portfolios. A teaching scenario is created – a new subject Law and Zoology – and tested against five sets of measures of scholarly teaching from policies and literature. paper|ssrn

You want to do an interdisciplinary thesis? Portents for doctoral students, research supervisors, universities. Academic leaders interviewed in 2005 were aligned on the difficulty of changing to address discipline stand-offs, especially in a university placing high priority on securing world-class research. As physicist Lee Smolin said bluntly in 2002: ‘Career-savvy graduate students, no matter how imaginative, hesitate to work on something not understood by the powerful old men and women of their field’. Exhortations by education developers and policymakers notwithstanding, the world-wide research degree system feels happier and more effectual at supervisor/examiner levels when working and communicating ‘within discipline’. This dimension, backing statistics and typology theory are considered in an associated note: Changing expectations – distinguishing research student types and aims.

Testing times. What amounts to clarity of direction in a university, institute, centre? Purpose, competitive edge, academic responsibility, benchmarks and measures.

E-thereal University Goals. Vision, ideas of elite education in an electronic age.