Australia Tour 2011 – Monday Feb. 14

Happy Valentine’s Day!

After a 3 hour plane ride on Friday and a quiet weekend in Melbourne mainly working on some history work I had brought with me, it was down to business again today, with a visit to the University of Melbourne. I’ve been joined over the weekend by Dr Sally Rigden from the Principal’s Office, who is an Australian herself (from Perth via Canberra). We took the tram down Swanston street the 15 minutes to the University. One of my favourite things in any new city is to try out the local transport and the trams are great.

Taking the tram in Melbourne out to the U of Melbourne

Prof Peter Jamieson explains to DW the logic of some of the teaching space decisions the university has taken.Melbourne is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Australia, regularly placing at or near the top of research rankings, including quite a spectacular recent climb up the Shangai Jiao Tong rankings. There are, apparently, very few week departments and 52 of them scored perfect ’5s’ on the national research assessment exercise (ERA). It is twice the size or more that of Queen’s, at about 47,000 studentsWe were met at the International Centre, right out on Swanston St by the tram stops, by a staff member who squired us to our first meeting, with the university’s provost (roughly equivalent to our provost), John Dewar. I was particularly keen to find out about the famous ‘Melbourne model’ which over the past few years has quite considerably changed the curriculum structure, making formerly undergraduate professional programs into graduate or 2nd entry programs. We have done some of these things ourselves at Queen’s, for instance the conversion of the LLB into a JD, but the process has been much more extensive at Melbourne and much more of a radical departure from the ‘direct entry’ approach (borrowed from Britain) whereby students can get into medicine, law etc direct from high school.

Melbourne has taken an interestingly interdisciplinary approach to research, with much of it clustered around Institutes with a problem-focus, such as ‘Sustainable Communities’ or ‘Broadband Enabled Society’. Its annual consolidated budget is about 1.5 million $AU.

The campus is an interesting mix of old and new.


In the older section of the U of Melbourne campus

The 'Spot'--the U of Melbourne Business school building on the newer side of campus

On one side, the buildings are very old, but have in many cases been redeveloped or repurposed. On the other side, it is almost all new or recent, including a very interesting Business school building known as ‘The Spot’.

Our second meeting was a rapid tour through some of the university’s innovative teaching spots. With a new teaching building being planned at Queen’s, I was particularly curious to see what they had done here. Our guide, Prof Peter Jamieson, is an Education specialist who was hired here specifically to reform the teaching spaces. He is an ‘Energizer Bunny’ of an enthusiast who whipped us around campus in less than an hour to some of the most interesting teaching spaces I have seen for a long while.

We saw the social spaces in the library, including restaurant-like circular booths where students gather, often working individually on different projects but much more likely to sit together than at conventional long tables. At least a couple of the classrooms had school-like tables for 4 or 5 students, with space for the instructor in the centre of the room rather than at the front. Instead of blackboards or whiteboards, many of the rooms have glassboards, often brightly coloured.

classroom at Melbourne U with coloured glassboards

In the library, where much of the book stock has been out-housed to make room for student learning commons, we were quite struck by a set of old wooden tables. These appeared NOT to be wired for computers. This as Peter explained was quite deliberate—so many places ARE wired that he wanted a spot for students to sit for no longer than their batteries would allow, and to do other things than compute. There was only one lone laptop on the table we looked at.

Elsewhere, there was a quiet room, formerly a faculty lounge but now a student lounge. Soothing music at a low volume was piped in. The room was clearly a space for quiet contemplation. (We called it the Zen Lounge.)

the 'Zen lounge' (our term), a room for quiet contemplation, repurposed from a former faculty lounge.

After this rapid tour, which also included two brand new ‘pavilions’ or gathering spots, one indoors and one outdoors, it was time for lunch.

We went to the University House, a club or restaurant where we met Douglas Proctor, from the U’s International Relations office (Douglas, a French and linguistics grad, was in Kingston last November for a day, so knows our campus), our host,Susan Elliott, a Prof of Gastroenterology and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement), and Lesleyanne Hawthorne, Associate Dean in the Dentistry and Health Sciences Faculty. Lesleyanne also knows Queen’s and does work with Prof Keith Banting of our School of Policy Studies and Dept of Political Science. I had read a couple of articles by her last year on the Australian experience in internationalization as compared with Canada and other jurisdictions, so was very glad to be able to put a face to the email address!

the unwired table--designed to encourage greater circulation of students

During the lunch, in which we compared notes on internationalization initiatives, we were surprised by one statistic, which is that Canada is the single biggest supplier of international students to Australian medical and dental schools–a function of the excess of highly qualified students over places at Canadian medical and dental schools.

Following lunch we had one last meeting, at the university’s advancement office. Here, we had a fascinating discussion with several central and faculty advancement team members. Philanthropy is relatively new to Australia, as like Britain it has moved rather sharply from a fully-state supported system to one in which private support and tuition are increasingly filling the gap. Melbourne is embarking on its first full campaign in 70 years (by comparison there have been 3 or 4 at Queen’s since I was a student, and we are in the run-up to another right now). We were able to swap some good experiences and lessons learned. My parting gift from our hosts at this meeting was a history of the University coauthored by one of its most distinguishd historians, Prof Stuart Macintyre. By coincidence, I am dining with Stuart this evening, whom I first met on my last trip when we were both deans of arts; since then he has been a major collaborator in the Oxford History of Historical Writing (OHHW) project of which I am general editor. (I mentioned above that I had spent lots of the weekend working on ‘history’ stuff–it was in fact mainly on his volume in the OHHW which is now moving through the press process.

DW with historians Bain Attwood (middle) and Stuart Macintyre (right) in Melbourne Feb 14 2011

We had a pleasant dinner with Stuart and another historian involved in the Oxford History, Bain Attwood, from Monash University, where I am headed for meetings tomorrow.

Some more pix of today’s meetings below:

flexible room space dividers at Melbourne in the experimental classroom

the interior work pavilion--there are few students only because it is still summer holidays here

display monitors around campus don't just report on University events--they impart information on the countries that Melbourne's diverse student body come from!

inside the main library--the central desk is not a circulation desk. It is in fact the advising areas for Science students on their programs, here located right in the middle of the central learning space.

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