By Paul Millar
For a lot of students, university life goes by pretty fast. Whether you’re winging your way through tutorials, scribbling down essays on the day they’re due or even just blowing off a lecture to laze about in the sun, it’s tempting to think of your education as something to do when none of your friends are up for a coffee. If we have questions during our time here, they go unasked – and unanswered. But these questions matter. Am I being taught the skills that will prepare me for working life? What internship programs does University of Melbourne offer? What support groups are there around campus? Why isn’t the portal working? These are not just questions about a three-year education – they are about our future.
Since its founding almost 160 years ago, the University of Melbourne has been synonymous with prestige, culture and an unrivalled quality of education. Consistently ranked first among Australian universities in the world hierarchy, Melbourne is an institution that promises its students opportunities that will help shape the rest of their lives. But although the ideal that drives it remains the same, the same cannot be said for the university. Over the last five years, the University of Melbourne has been rocked by reforms that have changed the entire landscape of the Australian higher education system. This is the birth of a new era of education, and we have to wonder – what do these changes mean for students?
OurSay and the University of Melbourne Student Union are working together to give every Melbourne student the chance to decide what a University of Melbourne education means for their future. On the 24th of October, OurSay will bring the leading student voices of our latest forum face-to-face with the man behind the Melbourne Model himself, Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis. Joining him on the panel will be Melbourne’s Professor for Higher Education Simon Marginson as well as UMSU Education Officer Kara Hadgraft to share both the faculty and student representatives’ experience of the reality of university life.
Professor Davis joined the University of Melbourne as Vice-Chancellor and Principal in January of 2005 with a radical vision: to restructure the university curriculum to a form that would place more emphasis on graduate-level professional programs rather than the previously-dominant undergraduate degrees. This new format would emulate the international standard set by institutions such as Harvard University and the increasingly-universal Bologna model of higher education in Europe.
What followed was one of the most dramatic and controversial transformations in the history of the Australian education system. The ninety-six undergraduate courses offered by the former program were reduced to six broad degrees: Arts, Science, Commerce, Environments, Music and Biomedicine. These remaining programs were drastically restructured to promote a broader education that aimed to give students a more general education before they progressed into specific career-oriented graduate courses.
At their implementation in 2008, these changes were met with resounding opposition by many of the university’s students and staff. The humanities faculty in particular was incensed by the staggering cuts to teachers, subjects and even whole disciplines that were needed for the execution of Davis’ vision. On the other side of the lectern, many students hoping to study at Melbourne resented the new limitations placed on their subject choice - particularly those intending to specialise without spending the time or money on postgraduate study.
Despite this initial controversy, the Melbourne Model doesn’t appear to have been the devastating blow to the quality of a University of Melbourne education that its detractors feared. The Juris Doctor, Melbourne’s new professional law degree, has exceeded its targets in student intake and is gaining a reputation for intellectual prowess and prestige. It’s not alone; the new graduate programs in education are steadily becoming a prime choice for students looking for a more specialised pathway into research and teaching.
According to a series of student surveys conducted 18 months after the Melbourne Model’s introduction, nearly 80% of undergraduates studying at Melbourne were satisfied with the quality of learning in their subjects – a minor improvement on a similar survey from 2007, the year before the restructuring was implemented. For many students, though, the mandatory breadth and interdisciplinary foundation subjects remain a point of contention. That’s where we come in.
OurSay Australia is encouraging students from every faculty to join us in redefining what a University of Melbourne education means to people on a personal level, and for their future. To get involved, visit http://oursay.org/ and post a question on the issues that you’re passionate about.
But don’t stop there – get people talking about your question. Share it with your friends. Promote it during the awkward silences in your tutes. Scrawl it on toilet walls. If enough people vote for your question on our forum, we put it straight to the people whose decisions affect the lives of every student on campus – and we get answers.
Take control of your education and change the way that the University of Melbourne grows in the esteem of future generations. We’re giving you a voice - the rest is up to you.
Voting closes 5PM on the 19th of October. For more information visit http://oursay.org/.
This piece was commissioned by OurSay.
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