2023 NSW Higher Education Summit – Impressions from a PhD Researcher in Higher Education


Summit crowd member

By Felipe Balotin Pinto, Scientia PhD candidate at the School of Education & Teaching Fellow at the Faculty of Law & Justice

Published 11 August 2023


Whilst technology is vital to the future of HE, the Summit reminded us of the key role of those responsible for driving this transformation.

How exciting to be able to go back to in-person events and to witness significant discussions taking place before our eyes. Having commenced my Scientia PhD candidature remotely, I have encountered very few opportunities to be in the same room with higher education experts. As a researcher passionate about the field, I was thrilled to attend the 2023 NSW Higher Education Summit, on 30th June at UNSW, and gain insights into how our university leaders perceive the future of higher education. And there was much more to it. The Summit’s keynote presentations, the dynamic panel discussion, the networking breaks, and overall event organisation surprised me in multiple ways.

Keynote presentations

After a warm welcome by the hosts, Professor Andrew Norton (ANU) offered an intriguing keynote presentation. His data-rich analysis of the higher education sector in Australia over the past decades posed a reason for optimism about the near future.

Andrew Norton speaking at summit

Prof. Andrew Norton delivering keynote: Higher Education Sector 2023: overview

Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic and the challenges of reduced public funding, Professor Norton stressed that the higher education sector has successfully navigated similar pitfalls in the past and continued to grow.

In the following keynote presentation, Professor Alex Steel (UNSW) examined the impact of generative AI on university assessment.

From the outset, it was reassuring to learn that university leaders are actively monitoring and taking action to address the current AI-generated challenges.

More specifically, UNSW’s principle-based approach to handling AI integration seems to present a remarkable case study from which other higher education institutions may learn. Professor Steel’s talk resonated with the live audience and was repeatedly referred to by panel members later. After the event, while preparing my own teaching for next term and considering the role AI might play in the course, I often went back to Professor Steel’s presentation, now available on YouTube, along with Professor Norton's presentation and the panel discussion.

Alex Steel speaking at Summit

Prof. Alex Steel delivering keynote: AI and Education: a UNSW perspective

Meeting colleagues in person

The strategic ‘networking break’ after the first presentations was an excellent opportunity to dialogue about the future of universities and to connect with colleagues. I personally valued it as it was the first chance to meet in person academics with whom I have been collaborating over the past few months. I had the impression that many in the room were reconnecting face-to-face after a long while too.

Panel discussion

In the last section of the Summit, Professor Sally Kift, Professor Theo Farrell (UOW), Professor Mark Hoffman (UON), and Professor Sarah Maddison (UNSW) took the stage. The discussion, facilitated by the humorous and engaging Professor Merlin Crossley (UNSW), felt like an informal conversation amongst renowned tertiary education thought-leaders.

Panel members speaking at NSW HE Summit

From left to right: Prof. Sally Kift, Prof. Theo Farrell, Prof. Sarah Maddison, Prof. Mark Hoffman & Prof. Merlin Crossley

Although one would expect that such a discussion between highly regarded Deputy Vice-Chancellors Academic often takes place behind closed doors, this time it was shared with the audience in the room and online.

The panellists delved into the future of higher education, addressing crucial issues shaping the sector, such as new technologies, inclusion and participation, changes in the Australian workforce, and lifelong learning. The diverse perspectives provided an in-depth understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the sector across New South Wales and Australia.

I thank the Scientia Education Academy team, particularly the Academy Directors, Professor Patsie Polly and Professor Nalini Pather, for the flawless organisation. The event’s relaxed tone, despite the significance of the issues discussed, made us all feel welcome, even those of us who were at a Scientia Education Academy event for the first time.

The Summit provided an exceptional platform for early higher education researchers like my colleagues and I to witness the passion and commitment of institutional leaders towards shaping the future of the sector.

We were pleased that the innovative issues we discuss in our PhD shared space were also being debated in the universities’ higher levels. The NSW Higher Education Summit was the first time in recent years that we had a chance to witness that discussion taking place live in front of us. It is for this reason that I sincerely hope this was only the inaugural NSW Higher Education Summit.


Watch the Summit 2023 wrap-up video


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