Wednesday, April 18, 2007

University of Melbourne model

I posted on the Melbourne Model being pursued by the University of Melbourne last year. The idea is to have undergraduate generalist degrees followed by full fee postgraduate degrees along the lines of the US liberal arts model. Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis already seems to be getting nervous about the implications of the plan for enrolments there next year. The fraction of full-fee paying students will increase from 25% to 33% and, even apart from this, the costs of gaining a degree will increase because of the longer times taken to gain qualifications. If one believes in the 'law of demand' the moves by Melbourne will reduce numbers seeking to utilise its programs.

Essentially options for existing students are restricted – they can already do ‘double degree combos’ if they wish – and, even apart from this, programs will become more expensive in time and aggregate tuition charges. Other universities around Australia eagerly look towards able students heading in their direction rather than to Melbourne. Of course I hope that happens.

Melbourne will offer a handful of top school achievers reasonably lucrative scholarships. Sixty students who achieve an ENTER score of 99.9 will get their undergraduate degree course HECS-free along with cash incentives of $5000 a year, or $10,000 for interstate students. Students who achieve an ENTER of 98 or higher will receive a one-off $2500 payment to help offset costs.

One wonders if these sorts of measures will have much effect. My guess is that most of these top ENTER students, at least in Victoria, would already have intended to enroll at Melbourne.

Perhaps it will prevent them from shifting elsewhere. If not the only effect of the scholarships will be to redistribute resources to, in the main, the well-off private-school-trained students who get the bulk of the top ENTER scores. It would then have almost no efficiency effects and would be distributionally regressive.

Professor Davis says “We're trying to establish a culture that says (we would like) the very best students to aspire to come to Melbourne and we've got to make it possible for them to get here.”
That’s fine if additional good students are brought to Melbourne and if education objectives are seen to be a zero sum game where one university sets out to take all. Its not my view of how things should operate.

9 comments:

taust said...

What determines the choice of Uni for an intending undergraduate?

I would hazard a guess that the main determinants are: location (partially cost partially keeping social connections intact)and the expectation of a job once the degree is obtained.

Melbourne has now got the job of convincing employers that its new system will produce better educated output.

So the next ten years of entry into Melbourne will possibly be taking a more risky option than at other Uni's. the higher risk may be more offputting than the higher cost.

rabee said...

Harry,

I have yet to understand why Melbourne is doing this.

It doesn't make much sense from an educational point of view. It may inevitably lead to dumbing down the undergraduate course as well as the fee paying postgraduate courses.

One by one serious courses could gravitate from the undergraduate levels to the generaly-non-fee-paying postgraduate level-PhD; not to the fee paying postgraduate courses. That, I think, is the American model.

In the American model, if the reputation of Melbourne is to be sustained, then it will have to attract a flood of top PhD candidates, with scholarships, because that's the only place where the educational action will be.

But that's very difficult to do given that the PhD programs in Melbourne and other leading Australian universities are not uniformly exceptional.

Australian universities have a tradition of providing to quality undergraduate education that is world class. Why fix something that's not broken?

hc said...

Taust, Melbourne has an attractive location close to the centre of the city. I agree though that credibity in the job market will bre hard to establish.

Rabee, I also don't understand - it seems partly ideological rather than based on sound academic thinking. Melbourne has plenty of money, low teaching loads and in many areas only average research performance.

Given its resource endowment Melbourne has under-performed.

I think the undergraduate degrees in economics there currently are of high quality. I couldn't see any need to change such a program though I do think all economics students should do a broadening component of their degree - sociology, politics or a language.

I wonder if Davis is acting a bit like John Dawkins - doesn't matter iif he is right - just wants to make a big splash. I hope not.

conrad said...

Rabee: Maybe I'm just being cynical, but the quality of tertiary education in Australia isn't particularily high (especially at the postgraduate level, where it is comparatively woeful -- although it isn't high at the undergraduate either). Also, things are broken in Australian universities. Most universities simply don't have the money to get or retain good stuff in areas with competition. At present most seem to simply living on borrowed time -- when the age demographic crunch comes (which is soon), I think the cracks will turn into chasms.

Also, I think there are two things are worth notingabout "dumbing down".

1) Its hard to imagine how many courses in some universities couldn't be dumbed down further.
2) The dumbing down is going to happen with or without the Melbourne model -- this is in part because of the high school system, and in part because of student exceptations.

James Dudek said...

Melbourne University is a degree factory, not a place of learning.

Walk into just about any undergraduate lecture theatre and there are going to be hundreds if not thousands of attendees. How exactly is this learning?

The tutorial groups are run by inexperienced post-grad students and the undergrad students suffer through them in silence in the hopes that it will be over as soon as possible.

The students want the graduation piece of paper (so that they can get on with it, get a decent job and make some money) and the university wants to give it to them (so that they can get paid for graduating a student). The rest is just formalities.

This occurs because every pen-pushing job now requires University accreditation, which is usually completely unnecessary and whatever the graduate has learned at Uni could have been learned in 3 months of on the job training.

In my opinion, the new Melbourne model takes this reality into consideration, so good for them for taking the leap.

MMM said...

James, there is no guarantee the class sizes and teaching resources will be any better. They may well be worse! If far fewer students decide to enrol at Melbourne, then the class sizes will be better, but that will bankrupt the university....
The Melbourne Model is a disaster that no-one seems able or willing to stop. As a staff member I have seen the chaos in formulating new courses, and I certainly wouldn't recommend Melbourne to any bright VCE student. With all the uncertainty and ill-will around campus, many good staff have either left or are seeking positions elsewhere.

MMM returns said...

Now fast forward to 2009, and see where Glyn Davis has led the University: hundreds of staff cuts, Arts faculty ruined, VCA being ruined, massive budget cuts in departments (e.g. 30% cuts), whole faculties in serious problems (will Land and Env. survive?), Melb. Business School merger fiasco, staff strikes, students wondering what is going on.
If there are members left on the university council with any guts, they should sack Glyn and his management team, take control, and try and work out a rescue plan that includes those who have suffered most during the 'melbourne model' disaster; the academic staff and students.

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Joel said...

I'm sorry, but I am new to the Melbourne Model. I have currently been offered enrollment to the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne for an undergraduate architecture course and I am uncertain on which one to choose.

Right now, judging from the criticisms of the Melbourne Method, would it still be advisable to consider Melbourne U? Or go to a much more direct architecture course in Sydney U?

Thanks