A Change for Good: Tertiary education post-COVID-19 and beyond

As we reflect on a year defined by unprecedented events, for the team at Media Design School a silver lining has emerged in the form of a few surprising lessons. Faced with an unimagined upheaval of our learning environment, we discovered new heights of resilience and adaptability. Best of all, we learned just how quickly, creatively, and effectively we can implement change that works.

The question is, how do we keep up the momentum?

Like almost every other school, business, or household in the world, for Media Design School, 2020 has been the Year of the Pivot.  In a matter of days, we closed down our physical campus and moved almost 900 face-to-face learners and over 70 staff online.  

More than nine months later, as our students ease into a well-earned summer break, we’re starting to see the effects.  Students are producing some of the most innovative capstone projects we’ve ever seen. We’re in the middle of one of the biggest awards-season hauls in the school’s history. And just last week, we celebrated MDS’s largest graduation day of all time.

Online learning was always on the cards, but yes, this wasn’t quite the transition we’d planned.  Thankfully, necessity is the mother of invention and, not only have we been blown away by our students’ success this year, we’ve found ourselves propelled into the next era of Media Design School.  Right now, as a school in the throes of exceptional change it feels like just the right time to re-imagine what tertiary education can – and should - be. 

This year, we’ve embraced digital connectivity, hosting NZ’s first ever Virtual Careers Expo in June. We’ve used our proven success with remote learning to gain online accreditation, meaning we can continue teaching all of our programmes remotely within New Zealand.  We’ve welcomed a progressive new owner, Strategic Education Inc., and we’re expanding our course offerings to meet the biggest demands of a growing tech sector.

Best of all, we’re just a few months out from our move to a brand new, state-of the art campus in Wynyard Quarter – Auckland’s Innovation Precinct. 


So, what’s next for us? If this year has taught us anything, it’s that humans need to be agile. The future of work is changing, shaping the future of education as it goes.  What’s becoming clear is that the ability to upskill quickly and flexibly, to meet the demands of a changing jobscape, has never been more vital.  

A recent Finder survey showed that 1 in 4 New Zealanders are planning to upskill over the next 6-12 months.  On an international scale, PWC’s 2020 Workforce of the Future survey shows that 74% of the global workforce are ready to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable in the future.  The same survey shows that only 54% feel they have ‘all the skills they need for the rest of their career’.  According to the Finder report, at least 11% of those looking to upskill in NZ were doing so either out of fear or rising unemployment, or because they’d already lost their jobs.

The answer to this skills gap isn’t a commitment to long-term study. As providers, we need to be able to structure tertiary education in a way that enables working professionals to be lifelong learners.  Now is the time for tertiaries, and our governing bodies, to move beyond the constraints of a system that’s skewed towards traditional education. The future is flexible, stackable, learning that builds into a formal qualification, and we need to be prepared to offer it. 


For MDS, our next big step forward is the launch of a suite of free short courses that are open to anyone in New Zealand.


Developed in partnership with Torrens University Australia, each course is delivered fully online and on-demand.  Subject matter centres around hard and soft skills that align with the national workforce need, like Design Thinking, Big Data, and Crisis Management.  They’re bite-sized, mobile-friendly, and can be completed in just 1 to 2 hours.  

This is the way we’ll all learn in future, mastering new, in-demand skills as quickly as they emerge.  It’s a future that’s arrived sooner than expected, but it’s the perfect fit for a workforce that’s had to prove its capacity for rapid change in a way nobody could have predicted.

For us, the silver lining this year is the emergence of a bright future for MDS – and for tertiary education in New Zealand. We have a long road ahead, but we’ll be approaching it as a community unified by a common challenge. So try one of our short courses, be part of our endeavour to keep our workforce learning, and together we’ll move, fortified, into education’s next era.

Annual Open Day