Melbourne Uni: stuck in a rut?

Being the university nerd that I am, last Thursday I headed to Parkville to hear from the Vice-Chancellor, Glyn Davis (a person I knew remarkably little about beforehand, including but not only the pronunciation of his first name). VC Davis - I don't think he refers to me as UG Sharp, but he might one day - was speaking about the Melbourne Agenda, a grand document which spells out what most organisations would all a "Corporate Plan". The original was a twenty year plan launched in 1996, and the current round of consultations is part of the half-way review. This latest round has been given the rather grand title: "Growing Esteem: Choices for the University of Melbourne". Whatever. For more info on that stuff, head this way.

Say cheese

Anyhow, last Thursday the VC was speaking about the discussion paper for the review, and said plenty of things worth noting. Sadly, it was a room filled with ageing academics, and there were few of the undergraduate students who constitute the lifeblood of campus life there to offer their perspective. A few observations from one who did bother turning up:

- The University's achievements in undergraduate teaching leaves plenty to be desired. Whilst boasting a decent student:staff ratio of 18-1 (compared to 33-1 at Charles Sturt, 35-1 at Central Queensland Uni and 1000-1 on Collingwood for the flag), quality of teaching is consistantly rated poorly by students. Indeed, Melbourne University is well below the average in this area. Interestingly, the University manages to produce high quality graduates, leading to the obvious conclusion that university takes the best and brightest, improves them only marginally, and find them just as good and bright at the other end.

- A still shot was shown of a learning space at an interstate university, and it compared extremely favourably with the chalk-and-talk spaces in abundance in Parkville. The still showed clusters of seats around specially designed pods, with projection screens dropping from the ceiling at multiple points in the room. Whilst it's highly debatable whether technology leads to better learning, you can't help but wonder whether the predominantly passive learning in a tutorial has had its day.

- At the other end of the university community, Melbourne University boasts the only four Nobel Prize winners currently working in Australia. Yippee. It is, however, struggling to retain junior level staff. According to Davis, 20% of junior academic staff are leaving the university before their first contract is completed, a comparatively high figure. Many of these academics, it seems, are not seeing a future for themselves at Melbourne, perhaps because the pay and conditions are weighted toward much more senior staff.

- Surprisingly, the VC bemoaned the casualisation of the teaching staff. Given that he has significant power to alter the universities approach, this might be a sign of things to come. Many tutors are now casuals, and have little sentimental connection to the university. They see limited chances to further their academic career, and so drift frequently between different universities without gaining tenure. Whilst this might give the university short-term cost savings and 'flexability;, as Davis explained it means there are a lack of suitable academics to fill the void when the current generation of tenured academics retire.

- There was the usual whinge on a decrease in Federal funding, although this was accompanied by a candid remark that the current Education Minister Doctor Brendan's influence is so high that the "level of impact in the day to day running of the university is unprecedented". Hmmm, brave move, VC.

- The high number of Asia and Asian-Ausrtalian students at the university has left it with a dilemma to tackle: the university academics are overwhelmingly anglo. Whilst there has been a push in the past to encourage greater numbers of female academics in order to reflect more female undergrads, the same has not yet happened with regard to ethnicity. The VC was coy in spelling this one out, and though he didn't explicitly mention what particular demographic characteristic it was amongst students that was underrepresented amongst staff(perhaps it was blondes, or left-handers, or Volvo drivers), the implication was clear.

Don't expect anything too radical out of this project, but there are some interesting perspectives emerging. I'm toying with the idea of making a formal submission, since I doubt that many undergrads have the time or the inclination, though I've also been toying with the idea of riding around Tasmania on a unicycle and so far that hasn't got anywhere.

UPDATE 26/7 2:00pm: Whooops, just noticed that I'd accidentally disabled comments for this post. I've changed that now, so feel free to throw in your two cents on this post.


Anonymous said…
I think there's more chance of you commenting on UOM report than riding round Tassie on a unicycle, although if you do do the later please be sure to post pictures. C
Just to stir the pot (who, moi?), allow me to offer some alternative interpretations as to how the University produces high quality graduates, but teaching is rated poorly by students.

Interpretation One: University of Melbourne students are generally high achievers, so set high standards for themselves and their teachers. Thus, they frequently find the teaching does not meet these high standards.

Interpretation Two: The University of Melbourne is over-represented by students from private schools. These students are used to a high level of attention (some might even say spoon feeding) from their teachers, and are disappointed when it no longer occurs.
Anonymous said…
It's worth noting the high student to teacher ratios at CSU and CQU are a result of the Department not distinguishing between on and off campus students sharing classes. So while it looks like there are oodles of people packed into a room, they are never actually all in the same room at the same time.
Anonymous said…
Hi. Any advice would be appreciated.

I just completed my VCE and have sufficient marks to get into Commerce at either Melbourne or Monash University. My ultimate goal is to complete Commerce/Law.

Im quite concerned regarding whether I should go through the JD system or do one year of commerce and transfer into commerce/law (undergrad). How difficult is it to get into the JD? Particularly a CSP place

Also, I heard that some firms only hire Melbourne graduates. Would that be correct?

I guess my key concern is that Commerce at Melbourne is 5% higher then Monash (ENTER wise) and is the best course in Australia (highest ranking). To get into JD Law, you need to sit the LSAT, write an essay and maintain a good average.

Do you believe its worth the effort. Curerently I will recieve a round one offer for Commerce at Melbourn amd have a round two commerce offer at monash.
Thank you

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