THE Coalition has formed a working group to examine the opportunities and challenges posed by online learning.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott outlined the thinking behind the Online Higher Education Working Group during a speech to the Universities Australia Higher Education conference in Canberra on Thursday.
Victorian Liberal MP Alan Tudge will chair the working group, which will also comprise Karen Andrews, Senator Fiona Nash, Senator Stephen Parry, Nola Marino and Rowan Ramsey.
The inclusion of the Senator Nash, who is the Opposition's parliamentary secretary for the regional education, is a clear sign the working group will examine closely the opportunities available to regional universities.
Mr Abbott said Australia could "not afford to be left behind", but similarly could "not afford to get this wrong".
He said it was important Australia embraced online learning, but not at the expense of our universities' reputations for excellence.
"The coalition wants Australian universities to be able to take advantage of the growth in online learning, such as the development of massive open online courses. These have obvious potential to make higher education more widely available but, equally obviously, also pose a challenge to established methods and institutions," Mr Abbott said.
"The ... working group ... will explore how even nimble and resourceful institutions might make more of these opportunities while preserving their inheritance, especially the 'common room' tradition of intellectual interaction."
The working group will consult widely and will report to shadow ministers Senator Brett Mason and Christopher Pyne by the end of April.