Australian Catholic University addresses employer needs with in-demand Microsoft skills

Graduates of Australian Catholic University (ACU) can now “hit the ground running”, with certified up-to-date core digital skills guaranteed through embedding Microsoft certifications into IT and Business courses.

Gaining certification in Microsoft Excel and Azure Fundamentals is now embedded as a mandatory element of the curriculum and offered free to all students and staff.

ACU has integrated this training in response to an identified gap – where employers reported graduates were generally lacking proficiency in fundamental digital skills.

Associate Professor Bhavani Sridharan, Associate Dean, Learning & Teaching, Faculty of Law and Business, says past graduates had reported that it took them six months on the job to pick up these key skills which are now an integral part of ACU’s business and IT programs.

“In focus groups, they said they wished they had been able to learn those skills at university,” she says.

Accountancy students lacked professional level proficiency in Microsoft Excel and IT students who study high-level programming wanted to develop their skills in more advanced Microsoft products.

“We realised we needed to do something about it,” says Associate Professor Sridharan.

Microsoft certifications, covering both basic and advanced levels, provide a competitive edge for our students in the employment market that they really needed to stand out from the crowd.

First-year Business Administration student, Ms. Tuong Dang, sat the exam for the Microsoft Excel Associate certification and says she has been able to apply the skills immediately in her course and in her work volunteering with a non-government organisation.

“I can see that it’s very practical in my daily use and in the workplace. It motivates me to learn more,” she says.

Around 1200 business and IT students per year have access to the following certifications:

  • Excel Associate
  • Excel Expert
  • Microsoft Azure Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Azure AI Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Power Platforms Fundamentals

Associate Professor Sridharan says the certification is offered free to students, following the principle of democratising education – making it available to all, regardless of their ability to pay.

Academic and administrative staff can also access the training, says a lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Business, Dr Mehdi Rajaeian.

Taking advantage of their Microsoft Learn for Educators benefit, teaching staff not only have access to teaching and learning tools to support students, they can also get certified themselves.

By getting certified our teaching staff are able to maintain currency in their skills and keep up to date with the tools and technologies. They are also able to design customised learning products that meet the industry needs and enable them to guide students better through the certification process.

The learning and certification services, offered through Prodigy Learning, have already had a positive impact on efficiency, with staff members automating repetitive tasks, such as sending personalised messages.

Associate Professor Sridharan says the embedding of the certification is supported by ACU’s 2023 strategic plan, which encouraged academic staff to move out of their “comfort zones” and to innovate. The plan includes the core vision of “impact through empathy” through opportunity, innovation, and ethics.

ACU’s education strategy is built around delivering programs to prepare students for a bright future, adapting to the disruptive environment and “future-proofing” students’ future employability, Associate Professor Sridharan says.

“This Covid-19 pandemic clearly revealed to us that the environment is changing very rapidly. Students need to be ready for a dynamic and uncertain future. So this meant reimagining our business and IT curriculum.”

ACU’s response to the onset of the pandemic and the university’s initiatives around the curriculum demonstrate the agility of the higher education sector.

“Like many other universities, we transformed our face-to-face education into online education within a period of seven days,” says Associate Prof. Sridharan. “This gave us the self-confidence that we can change quickly, swiftly learn, unlearn, and respond to the contemporary challenges.”