Here at The Brand Education, we have a feeling that 2020 will go down in history as the year that changed higher education. It’s true that the pandemic has forced many of us to change the way we work. But it’s also encouraged many of us to rethink our relationship with education and question assumed knowledge in the space.

Do we need campuses to deliver degrees? Is three years the right amount of time for an undergraduate degree? Are we doing everything we can to enable the next generation of students?

At this time of great upheaval, these are the kinds of questions that leaders in the space are asking. Rethinking education from first principles – the first basis from which a subject is known – gives us a framework to assess the industry landscape objectively and find inspiration for innovation.

This week, we’re taking a look at two universities that are doing just that. Even if you can’t change the nature of your institution, the examples below might give you a fresh take on unique selling points for your marketing plan.

Torrens University, Australia

Torrens University has only been around since 2012. However, that didn’t stop them going from 160 students to over 19,000 in just six short years. We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Bryce Ives – Vice President of Public Relations and Communications over at Torrens – on our latest podcast. Bryce owes the university’s success to their unique approach to education.

“Traditionally,” he says, “a university is located somewhere…Torrens, on the other hand, has a national footprint. And our campuses don’t look like traditional university campuses”. In fact, Torrens embraced online and blended learning from the inception of the university, focussing instead on outcomes over locations. And instructors don’t just pay lipservice to commercial interest; they build it right into the course DNA. For example, their hospitality program is “a creme-de-la-creme hospitality management experience where the students run a full hotel facility in the Blue Mountains”. It’s a great example of first-principles thinking in education.

The University of South Wales, UK

This long-standing British Institution is taking the opportunity provided by COVID-19 to reassess and evaluate its business practices, specifically with regards to online learning. “COVID has accelerated the decision-making process by about five years,” says Simon Thomas, course leader at USW. He believes that universities today can learn a lot from the private sector. And that the ones that don’t might hit trouble down the road. 

“Entrepeneurial thinking,” he says, “doesn’t devalue the offer of education…[education leaders] do need to adopt that agile mindset”. Simon even goes one step further to suggest online learning can offer a more personal learning experience, with deeper engagement and a distraction-free environment. He believes that what students really need to hear is “meaninguful feedback. What did I do right and wrong?” With online learning, students get “a dedicated 15 to 20 minutes, one-to-one, of meaningful conversation.”

These two different institutions address the question of what teaching needs to achieve, albeit in very different ways. USW reframes the pandemic as an opportunity to re-engage with the most impactful parts of the learning experience. Torrens, on the other hand, rethinks education entirely to offer a new experience focussed on outcomes. They’re both an inspiration for us to re-engage with the first principles of education and make sure they’re front and centre in our marketing activities.

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