Australia Tour 2011 – Tuesday, Feb. 8

Correction, it is Curtin University of Technology no more–since July they have dropped the ‘Of Technology’ bit from the university’s name. A very new university (established 1987 after a previous 20 year existence as a polytechnic), it has 47,000 students total, of which a staggering 1/3 are international students. The buildings on the main campus that we visited all seem very new. On a tour of the campus in the afternoon, we ducked inside a brand new engineering building which has not quite opened; another one is in the early stages of construction.

interior of a brand new engineering building at Curtin U

Our tour guide, Tania, a Curtin grad from 2003 in Business Law who now works in the international office at Curtin, mentioned that the university has increased enormously in scale and size even in the 8 years since she graduated. We actually arrived at Curtin on the day of a graduate ceremony (it is Australian summer, and a few weeks before term starts–here grad ceremonies occur a few months after the end of the academic year, rather like the US model). Everywhere students were around in regalia waiting for the ceremony, outdoors, to start this evening when it would be a bit cooler.

a student tries on his gown prior to Convocation at Curtin U Feb 8 2011

Curtin has several satellite campuses in other parts of Western Australia and elsewhere in the country, but it was principally their international campuses we were curious about. As Queen’s considers its own international initiatives, learning from those with much more experience will be helpful. Curtin has 20 years of history in engaging especially with Asia, and it has both branch campuses in Sarawak and Singapore, and ‘partner’ campuses with other Asian universities where Curtin degrees are offered using other institutions facilities.

John Dixon and I had a lengthy meeting with his counterpart, David Wood, an urban planner who is currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor International. We noted that Queen’s has several existing relationships with Curtin, in the areas of applied sustainability and planning among others (SURP professor David Gordon was out here a year ago). We had a lot of questions about lessons learned during Curtin’s expansion internationally, and discussed possible further collaboration opportunities. Subsequently we met with my counterpart, Vice-Chancellor Jeanette Hacket, a very engaging and enthusiastic woman keen to embrace international partnerships in Canada as well as Asia. Her colleague, Deputy VC (Research and Development) Linda Kristjanson had a Canadian connection–a nurse by training she has spent time at Queen’s and knows the Canadian system well having lived for a while in my home town, Winnipeg. (There are a lot of Canadian ex-patriates in Australia. Could it be the weather?). Finally, Deputy VC (Teaching and Learning) Robyn Quin is responsible for all academic programming at the main campus and for quality control over all programs or ‘courses’ in the Curtin system. Quality control is very high, but has traditionally been done by retrospective means, as an audit of performance metrics such as retention, rather than as the ‘gatekeeping’ system (where new programs must be approved in advance) that prevails in most Canadian provinces, including Ontario (recently modified at Queen’s through the QCAPS process approved at Senate to meet provincial requirements).

on the campus of Curtin U outside a popular eatery

While the Australians are a decade or so ahead of us on the international front, we have progressed further in one key area that is of growing importance in both countries, namely fund-raising from philanthropic sources. While the US is way ahead of both Australia and Canada, we have a more developed (no pun intended) system, and a significantly greater portion of our operating budget comes from private fundraising. This is going to increase in urgency for Australian universities in the coming years.

So, a productive day of fact-finding and quite a few questions answered. But as my colleague John Dixon said as we left one of the meetings, we also have a very clear idea of how much we actually don’t know and need still to learn about in the area of internationalization.

Now, on to the two day meeting of the Matariki network, starting with the U of Western Australia Vice-Chancellor’s BBQ this evening.

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