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More on the Melbourne model.

I posted last week on the major reforms of university educatiion being initiated at the University of Melbourne. Professional degrees will follow more broadly-based liberal arts degrees. This is consistent with US liberal arts programs and the Bologna model – the agreement among European nations that a three year undergraduate program followed by a two-year masters degree or three-year doctoral program – will become the European standard by 2010. I am surprised at the lack of discussion of these issues generally in Australia. Today’s Saturday Age is a useful exception.

Maybe Simon Marginson is exaggerating a little but I think not by that much in calling the Melbourne move:

‘the most radical change in higher education in Australia since its foundation university, Sydney, was formed in 1850’.

One criticism is that it will foster more full-fee paying education, cut student intakes and become more elite-based. There will however be an expansion of its program of providing subsidised places for less advantaged students particularly in graduate programs. Properly implemented and with appropriate public support these moves should not make Melbourne more elitist.

Some bright students who know initially what they want to do will switch to dedicated undergraduate programs at other universities. But graduate students from these other universities will plausibly also switch to Melbourne so it is difficult to determine the net effect.

Moreover, given the high status of Melbourne other universities may be tempted to follow the model. University of Western Australia is said to be examining the case. Probably not the other universities in Melbourne who will be eagerly looking for advantage from the Melbourne move.

Other information: Professor Peter Dougherty makes undistinguished remarks here. The University of Melbourne’s websites contain much administrative babble concerning the ‘triple helix’ of excellence and so on – the general intent of the approach is here. A progress report on implementing the Bologna model in Europe is here.

5 comments to More on the Melbourne model.

  • Not my real name

    I wrote what I hope was an interesting response to this at

    http://thelawthoughts.wordpress.com/2006/06/10/melbourne-uni-grad-degrees/

  • Tanya

    I find the argument that Melbourne will create an elite enclave really quite funny. What do they think undergrad entry produces – equality? Yeah, sure!! If anything, Melbourne is breaking the links between wealthy families, private school participation, high grades, high expectations, and entry to undergrad professional programs. This is a great thing for kids from less privileged backgrounds AND will provide a stronger pool for the graduate schools and for the profession in general.

    Also, to highlight something that was raised in your earlier post, but confirmed in The Age article – most of the grad places will be HECS-supported. This is logical – other grad law programs like Wollongong’s have been HECS supported since they were established over 15 years ago.

    One additional cost factor to note is that students will pay for an extra year of study but that they will save on HECS if they do an Arts degree first. That is, they will not be paying Law levels for the first three years. Sure, they’ll be out of the workforce for a year longer but I think we can say that they will reap the rewards in the long-term. I hope this is explained to the debt-averse…it probably won’t be since all our governments stink at explaining HECS to kids, parents, teachers, and other important folk but Melbouren should be out there explaining the HECS and scholarships situation.

    On the subject of whether or not Melbourne’s reforms are ‘the most radical change’, I think Marginson is right – in context, this is a serious act of leadership. From the beginning, our universities have always been a horrible combination of elite fringe-dwellings and public service ghettos. I’m not saying that some great things haven’t been done at them – we have had and continue to provide some outstanding faculty and graduates – but rather the leadership has never been ‘wow!’ and the evidence of that can be seen in the current convoluted system. The responses of Swinburne and other universities’ vice-chancellors to Melbourne’s moves demonstrate the lack of quality leadership – these guys spend all day whinging about other universities and needling their own academics but apparently little time thinking about and implementing creative solutions to their difficulties.

  • Tanya

    Okay, and I have to say that I think Melbourne’s triple helix idea is really kinda cool. US universities talk about the ‘three pillars’ of research, teaching, and community service, but the helix imagery gives it extra punch. Maybe I’m too steeped in University Planning Babble!

    And to add another point that folk might want to think about … Melbourne has a lot to say about the Bologna Model which makes it seem that Melbourne is responding to Europe and not the evil America. However, the significance of Bologna is that now European universities will look a lot more like American universities which means that the competitive pressure is really on to conform to the US model. Bologna is a not so great copy – a compromise of sorts. I hope Aus universities draw more from better understandings of US institutions.

  • hc

    Tanya, I was told that Melbourne’s Commerce school comprises 90% students from private schools. If true it already is an elite institution. Note also the response of nmrn – he points out that most law students are doing joint degrees already so the changes won’t have a big impact on them. I don’t know about other areas.

    My judgment is that many of the other universities are trying to square the circle by seeking reform without adequate resources. They don’t have the money.