The Melbourne Model

This morning’s papers ran a lot of pre-launch publicity for the Melbourne Model, the University of Melbourne’s new approach to higher education that was officially launched today and will be phased in from 2008.

Over time, the number of undergraduate degrees will drop to six: Arts, Science, Environments, Commerce, Music and Biomedicine. Most professional courses will be taught in graduate schools, with a dozen of these new Masters-level courses starting in 2008, and more to follow in subsequent years.

I’ve said little about this on the blog, as part of a general effort to keep separate and conflict-of-interest-free my roles as an employee of the University of Melbourne and as a higher education commentator. I’ll keep avoiding public discussion of the merits and demerits of the changes (though of course I think that there should be more choice in Australian higher education, with the market rather than the Commonwealth deciding what is offered). Plenty of other people have been offering their views on the substance of the changes at Melbourne. But there are a couple of contextual policy points worth making.

One thing to note is that this is a rare case of a public university introducing major reforms without being forced to do so by external circumstances. This is partly because policy since the Whitlam takeover in the 1970s has given universities little room to move, but also because as I noted last week university governance has historically (though not so much now) been dominated by internal interest groups and political appointments, not people generally with the inclination or ability to promote change.

A second thing to note is that though the Minister, Julie Bishop, has endorsed the broad direction Melbourne is taking the reforms are an unanticipated consequence of an earlier reform, the Postgraduate Education Loans Scheme (PELS) which began in 2002, and which was replaced in 2005 by FEE-HELP. Without the extension of income-contingent loans to postgraduate students a model like this one is unlikely to have been possible.

If the Melbourne Model works and is imitated by other universities it will be the second major change to Australian higher education that is as much a product of policy inadvertence as design. From 1995 to 2004, and again from 2008 after 3 years of incentive increments, the indexation policy for university grants has been to cut them in real terms every year. Since it is impossible for universities to stay in business on this funding formula, they went looking for students who could not only pay their own way but also cross-subsidise domestic students – hence the extraordinary growth in international student numbers. They now make up a quarter of all students enrolled in Australian universities. Would this have happened if universities were able to fund themselves domestically? To some extent, it probably would as Australian universities sought to give their campuses a more international flavour. But I very much doubt it would have happened on anywhere near the current scale.

46 thoughts on “The Melbourne Model

  1. If it was such an attractive model for prospective students, why do they need $100 million in old-style scholarships? Will ordinary people be frightened by how much a US style degree will actually cost?


  2. Andrew N, are the undergraduate degrees to be quite general? (with specialisations at the postgraduate level?)

    I quite like the idea of variety in the higher education sector, hopefully leading to improved education.


  3. David R,

    you might want to look at the opposite argument of your suggestion — offering $100 million in scholarships is a _good_ thing, and in fact its comparitively small compared to the amount in scholarships many of the Ivy-league universities offer. Of course, they also have piles more money too.

    It seems to me that the problem with the scholarships is that they are being offered to the wrong people — undergraduates. It would be far more sensible to offer them at the post-graduate level where people have to pay fees, versus the undergraduate, where lots of government stuff is floating around (and for that matter, other universities).

    The other thing you might want to consider is, rather than whether the majority of students happen to like it or not at some instant of time, is whether it happens to be a good thing. At least from the perspective of other universities, its a great thing, since (a) it shows them they don’t actually have to do everything stupid thing the government wants; (b) it shows them you don’t have to take as many students as possible; (c) the less of the good undergraduates Melbourne happens to take, the more there are floating around for other universities; and (d) most of the risk associated with the change is taken by Melbourne, not them.

    Its also good for students that get into universities, because if Melbourne does a good job, it means it will force other universities not to simply drop their standards, which seems to be one of the general strategies to deal with lower levels of funding now. This will force them to take politically hard decisions (on the government), like threatening to close down useful courses that make a loss, and closing down loss making campus’s in stupid country areas with no demand.

    Yet another group it is good for is people that work in Australian universities. At present, there is no real difference for many people whether they happen to work at a good or bad university (similar pay, similar teaching loads). If Melbourne has more money, it means they might be able to pay more, and keep and attract better quality staff. At present people I know (including myself) work at some places for reasons like convenience, the fact there is cheap food close for lunch etc. If Melbourne had the extra money, the could probably convince the best of these people to move — and that includes potentially great people working OS that have no reason to move now.


  4. conrad,
    My concern is not with the Yale/Harvard type educational model building an international grade university (which benefits that should flow through to university staff), I’m more concerned that that the students end up footing the bill and for a lot of them the extra expense won’t be reasonably recoverable in their working lives. A mega dollar Harvard degree might be useful in the US for some graduates, but it would be harder to generate the kind of income that would pay for your FEE-HELP loan in Australia (assuming that Melbourne is no more efficient at producing grads than Harvard).

    I’m deeply skeptical about scholarships. In the past they have been doled out on a social basis (who do you know) rather than strict talent basis. No matter what Melbourne Uni says, eventually they will have a system based around who you know, rather than what you are capable of, and everybody loses.


  5. Sacha – ‘Generalist’ is not the best term to describe these degrees. The language the University is using is ‘depth’ (ie everyone will do a major) and breadth (25% of subjects from another disciplinary area). There is a move away from students doing a mish-mash of unconnected subjects towards more coherence. It’s also hoped that this will lead to a stronger ‘cohort’ experience, though as now this will be easier to achieve in small than large faculties.

    Biomedicine will be the target undergrad degree of those hoping to go on to medicine and other health-related courses. They also have the breadth requirement, however.


  6. University education is post-compulsory education. As such, I am somewhat unconvinced about the merits of forcing students to undertake a broad-based undergraduate degree before specialising at the postgraduate level. I would prefer to leave the choice up to the student. There is already room in at least some undergraduate degrees to obtain a broad-based undergraduate education if that is what the student wants. However, students are also able to specialise in a couple of disciplines if that is what they want. Some students may want to specialise in a couple of disciplines at the undergraduate level and then undertake further specialised work in one of those disciplines at the postgraduate level.


  7. Damien, perhaps having a diversity of degree structures across institutions is a way to deal with different student wants.


  8. But Homer most goods and services originate by producers offering them to the public and seeing if there is a market, and not consumers calling for currently unavailable goods and services?

    Damien -Surely choice is what is currently being *denied* to the student, with 37 public universities all offering only minor variations on the same basic format. If students don’t like the Melbourne Model, there are still 36 minor variations on the same basic format available to them.


  9. How is the current system denying them choice in terms of degree structure? Most of those universities offer B.A. and B.Sc. degrees, both of which can be used for either specialised study in particular areas or more broad-based study.


  10. Clarification: I suspect that most Australian universities offer B.A and B.Sc. degrees or their equivalent, which can be used for either broad-based or specialist study. However, I don’t know this certain.


  11. Damien – BA or BSc degrees will have new features (compulsory breadth, a capstone activity, more opportunity for interaction with outside groups, a greater emphasis on a cohort experience). But that’s all consistent with the traditional model, one of the variations I mentioned.

    It is the abolition of most professional undergraduate degrees that is the big structural difference between the Melbourne Model and the traditional model. The advantages of this are: avoiding premature career choices, more committed students (no u/gs unsure of what they really want to do), more focused study (no double degrees), and better-funded teaching (though the large number of Commonwealth-supported places means that this is diluted somewhat).


  12. Are double degrees a bad thing in your estimation Andrew?

    I found mine very interesting and (relatively) satisfying, allowing me to pursue much broader interests than a single would have while still allowing me to prepare for my preferred career options.

    Obviously people who want to do that can still do it at other universities. I’m just curious as to why you seem to be describing them negatively in the above comment.


  13. Is a double degree the samne as a combined degree? I did a combined B.Ec and B.Sc as an undergraduate at ANU. Basically, I got both a B.Ec. and a B.Sc but only had to the equivalent of two mafors in each instead of three majors in each. This was very beneficial for me. I was able to complete a double major in economics, a major in mathematics and a major in econometrics. I could have completed majors in all three of these areas within the B.Ec, but I would have missed out on the additional economics major. The opportunity to do combined degrees and specialise was highly valuable. It also formed a great basis for my subsequent graduate level study!!!


  14. Andrew, please show the consumer fury about getting Melbourne to change and no most companies don’t act that way.
    They do plenty of research beforehand. In this case it is very hard to argue consumers wanted any such change.

    It is somewhat ironic if lifelong learning is the new buzz nowadays then post-graduate learning will decline not increase.


  15. My understanding (which may be crude or wrong) is that the Melbourne Model is being driven by a combination of financial/cost considerations as well as consumer preferences. In other words, the university saves money by not offering expensive vocational undergraduate courses for which it is underfunded, while still giving students who want to do double or vocational degrees the option of doing so at a higher price. Consumers may want all sorts of things, but the production of those things needs to be viable or else provision will not be sustainable. Melbourne may be trying to offer students a package of courses that is less desirable to most of them than the status quo, but is at least financially sustainable.


  16. David: If students don’t want to pay the extra for their degree (mainly in time taken), they can go to one of the other universities. Its not like Melbourne is the be all and end all of universities, and its not like they offer some amazing course that no other university does.

    I also disagree with you about the expense of these degrees at the post-graduate level. I was thinking about doing one of these once, and last time I checked, they were around $30,000 per year, and there were all sorts of government freebies hanging around to pay for it, or at least get the loan. This doesn’t seem too bad to me, and it far far cheaper than the US equivalent. The more expensive ones that take longer are things like medicine, which are basically guaranteed gold-mine degrees if you get them, so I don’t have any sympathy for people in debt because of them — they’re a good investment. If I could buy the knoweldge/potential gains without the effort I would.


  17. Damien – Double and combined degrees are the same in terms of structure, though there is a legal difference relevant to how universities manage their quota of 35% full-fee domestic undergraduates.

    Leopold – I’m not against combined degrees (BA/LLB myself) though they do have the potential drawbacks I mentioned for some people. Indeed, had I started at Melbourne in 2008 rather than Monash in 1984 I may well not have proceeded to complete the LLB and aimed for a PhD instead. Yet at age 17 I intended quite firmly to be a lawyer. –

    Homer – A version of this system has operated successfully in the US for generations. There has also been strong demand for graduate entry undergraduate courses (that was what they had to call them to get Commonwealth funding) in medicine and for the p/g law course that Melbourne has been operating for some years.


  18. conrad wrote:
    The more expensive ones that take longer are things like medicine, which are basically guaranteed gold-mine degrees if you get them
    I think this used to be true for medicine, but isn’t necessarily true any more. The gradual shift to non-doctor diagnosis and treatment for things like hearing problems, (some) obstetrics with a shift back to midwifery and other movements make being a doctor not quite the gold plated career it used to be. Add to that the far longer certification process for most doctors (their education continues well after formal university training) and lots of them end up broke far longer than those that did vocational type degrees.


  19. David, have a look in the Oz this weekend in the ‘Career’ section and see the remuneration being offered for doctors in Qld. It’s $150-350K pa for public hospital doctors with a few years’ experience, plus it comes with rock solid job security. Other States may be less, but it’s not bad.


  20. “Add to that the far longer certification process for most doctors”
    You’re obviously not aware of the difference between times used in the graduate vs. degree for doctors. The graduate version takes 4 years, but the undergraduate takes 6.5 (if I remember correctly — the first few years of a medical degree look very much like a science degree — which is the expected knowledge for the graduate version). So in fact the difference is only 1 year — so time really isn’t an issue when comparing the models. The same is true of things like speech and hearing, opthamology, and so on. The post-graduate degrees are done much more quickly the the undergraduate (many of which already don’t exist in Australia — speech and hearing, for example, is a 4 year degree in HK as an undegraduate, but a 2 year postgraduate in Aus), so again, the total time is slightly more, but not thrillingly so.
    Its also worth pointing out the almost all degrees with clinical components are exceptionally expensive to teach. Since no-one wants to provide the real funding for this, its either fee paying students, immigrants, or no-one.


  21. After recently reading MacIntyre’s ‘A Short History of the University of Melbourne’, I can state here that this development is merely an extension of early developments at Melbourne not an innovation as such.

    The first intake of students at Melbourne numbered 16 (all male) and they studied what today would be called a blend of humanities and sciences. Only 4 graduated, the rest dropped out. Fees were charged and the qualifications had little value in the employment market of early Victoria.
    The result was the inclusion of professional schools firstly medicine and then law, which were quickly followed by statute requiring these qualifications for practice. This was a rent seeking, money making enterprise. The ramping up of “professions” and credentialism for financial gain is what is happening today.
    MacIntyre is clearly a fan of the American system of education and currently at Harvard in Tim Flannery’s old job. Why on earth comparisons have been made to Europe and the UK in the same breath as these changes is a mystery probably explained by ongoing dual inferiority complexes rather than any real link to what has emerged in Europe with regard to education.
    In post industrial Australia, with a life extension seeking, landed boomer class, medicine and law are amongst the few nuggets left on the parched earth leveraged beyond its means.

    After catching JetStarAsia (the worst scam in history – being forced to buy a return ticket at the airport when there is really no legitimate reason to), I too wish I was Lindsay Fox’s heart surgeon in order to bring a sense of immediate justice to the world.


  22. This is quite oblique to Andrew’s post, but I was just wondering if people might be able to point me to general information on tertiary economics courses – people reading here may know of relevant sources – I’m thinking that I’d like to start a course mid-year and prefer it to not be an undergrad degree!


  23. Andrew, As yet we are not part of the US.
    Let me be quite blunt I would have no problem with this if consumers wanted it however as you have already shown this is another form of engineer product where the producer imposes their will on the consumer because they are the experts.

    Melbourne University is no different to a lot of businesses which treat the consumer with disdain.

    A consumer orientated organisation would have gained consumer input and then depending on the money have a few focus groups on the suggestion etc etc.

    Why do those who champion the capitalistic system not understand it?


  24. Homer – There was market research as part of the concept-testing stage.

    It is economists who simply take preferences as a given who do not understand the capitalist system, seeing the market only as a way of allocating resources efficiently to preferences that are (through some unspecified process) just out there, rather than also as an institution in which preferences are shaped. Even Clive Hamilton understands capitalism better than many economists in this regard!


  25. Rajat Sood wrote:
    It’s $150-350K pa for public hospital doctors with a few years’ experience,
    I take it all back. Between the cost of drugs and the price of doctors we’ll be back in the dark ages in no time!


  26. Andrew,

    there are important differences between top American universities and Melbourne. The main one is that Ivy-league unis can charge what they want, allowing them to attract the top teachers and offer small courses for the select few during undergraduates. Melbourne is constrained within the HECS system and its reliance on fee-paying overseas students of varying abilities. It cant charge what it wants, which means that small courses in grad school are very vulnerable. The current discipline-based system somewhat protects those courses in a system of cross-subsidisation whereby schools make their money on the large first-year couses allowing them to offer very advanced small courses in 3rd and sometimes 2nd years that wouldnt survive on their own since you cant charge for the real costs.
    Another big difference is the pool of applicants. Australian unis by and large fish locally, partially because of a lack of a national curriculum and partially because of the high costs of moving (you cant stay with mum and dad and hence have to fnid accommodation in another city!). That means Melbourne uni draws from a population of maybe 5 million. American Ivy-leagues attract people from all over the states (with 300 million people) and they can pull from abroad too, making the effective population they can draw from in the order of perhaps up to half a billion people. Hence the quality of undergrad students you see at the very top US places is not something you can realistically aspire too in Melbourne. You’re thus going to have more variance, which when you mix creates a run to the bottom.

    Another difference is the type and quality of the education system feeding into them. The good Australian schools already give their kids a quite general understanding of the world, more so than your average US high school (at least according to the PISA results). Hence the whole need for keeping it general is lacking in Melbourne compared to the states.
    Its already strange enough of Melbourne to want to fix something that aint broke, but to adop a system that is designed to operate in completely different market circumstances and that in many ways is inferior is not good management in my books. And I agree with the commentators on this site who find it weird that a new system that is supposedly going to be great feels it needs to bribe students to come.


  27. Paul – The grad schools are outside the 35% restriction on full-fee students, so their average income per student will be higher. In the long term, I would also expect more interstate recruitment. There is a good historical reason for low mobility relative to the US, which is that we had a national system in which all universities were very similar to each other. There were few academic reasons to move (also worth noting that within-state moves here can cover larger geographic distances than between-state moves in the US).

    Also, as you were at Troppo, you are mistaken in calling the Melbourne Model generalist. All the u/g degrees involve specialisation, but with a ‘breadth’ component attached. There is nothing like the core generalist curriculum found in some US colleges.

    I think variance of academic quality of the intake is also likely to be a non-issue; at least not much more than now. Most Melbourne students will continue to come in on ENTER scores of 90+.


  28. I should point out that the U of M is not trying to emulate the Ivy League. These institutions are in a league of their own. The grad school aspect is similar to the US, but the u/g degrees owe more to Australia’s higher ed history than to the US model.


  29. Andrew,

    I wish you had said that at the start. We now know that Melbourne is adjusting to changing consumer tastes.

    I now am fully in agreement with the concept


  30. Andrew,

    the finer details of the financing of the grad schools is a bit murky to me. Your VC wrote yesterday that he expects 80% of the grad students to be commonwealth related. I presume that comes with the usual strings of maximum fees attached, meaning Melbourne cant charge what it wants.
    As in the ClubTroppo site, I think you’re trying to have your cake and eat it with respect to generalist/specialist in undergrad. You cant claim Melbourne undergrad will retain its specialist and discipline based education at the same time as saying there will be a ‘broadening’ of the curriculum and a scrappnig of 100 courses. Melbourne is making its undergrad curriculum more generalist and will see a greater mixing of studetns with different abilities and proclivities (a great law student can still be a luosy math student and mixing them in the same math class will lead you to dumb down the course).
    The point about standards is that Melbourne strives for very low fail rates (4 to 6% when I was there). Its not the average student that the level of the course gets decided by, but the bottom 5 percentile. When you mix, that bottom 5 percentile is not going to be a person whose aptitude for that discipline is very high.


  31. Paul – But much of that reduction is, in a sense, artificial – lots of permutations of double degrees, eg Arts/Law, Commerce/Law, Science/Law, Engineering/Law, Computer Science/Law, Creative Arts/Law, Media and Communications/Law, Music/Law. 8 u/g courses gone, but in reality all but creative arts will survive as stand-alones in u/g or grad school form.

    The 80% average will include some that are virtually 100% Commonwealth-supported (eg Master of Teaching) while others that are 50% (eg law).

    As I said at Troppo, I can see your logic on the breadth subjects, but I doubt it will be a huge issue in practice because unlike a core curriculum system students will be able to avoid subjects they are not likely to be good at. People who are bad at maths won’t do maths.

    Students wishing to avoid this aspect will self-select out of Melbourne. Because the U of M has so many double degree students anyway, cross-discipline courses are not unusual already. Indeed, timetabling is a nightmare because there is so much mixing of disciplines going on. I can’t remember the exact number, but the number of different student timetables is only modestly below the total number of students.


  32. Andrew,
    we’re now haggling over shades of grey. I know the first-round reform plan promises nothing but internal winners: everyone will survive either as u/g or as a gradschool. That’s probably why everyone is still, at least officially, on board. I dont expect it to remain like that though.

    “People who are bad at maths won’t do maths.”
    I dont think its that easy. Maths is a hidden part of many 2nd and 3rd year subjects. You’ll get inept students thinking ‘environmental economics is cute, lets do that’ and fail to realise the level of maths required. When they subsequently fail, they complain and the pressure is applied to the lecturers to take the maths out of that courses.
    I agree with your point about double degrees. Conrad at CT made the same point and I agreed with him that a lot of the forces I predict will come to drag standards down at Melbourne have already been operating at many places precisely because of the much greater mixing now than before. The current proliferation of double degrees may be popular amongst students, but they’ve IMO not been good for standards at all. Melbourne is just accelerating the race to the bottom.


  33. Is it the proliferation of double or combined degree courses that is the problem? Or is it the combination of subjects that some students choose? As I indicated in an earlier comment on this thread (number 15), I did combined BEc/BSc degrees at ANU as an undergraduate. I think the subjects that I chose actually increased the quality of my education. (I completed a double-major in economics, a major in econometrics and a major in mathematics.)


  34. Damien – It’s a problem for the people who have to design timetables! But the fact that they have proliferated over the years suggests that they are certainly not insurmountable problems. ‘Double’ degrees are still possible, but they will be sequential at Melbourne rather than simultaneous (I’ll have to check this, but I think I recall hearing that if for example you did a Commerce degree at Melbourne, where economics will be taught, you could do your breadth subjects in maths (taught by Science) and then get credit for them if you enrol in a subsequent Science degree, and still finish in the 5 years it currently takes to do combined Commerce/Science.)


  35. Interesting discussion. I am a victim of “Growing Esteem”at Melbourne, having left a tenured job overseas to teach and research at the University. After a couple of pleasant years of enjoying some of Australia’s finest students and colleagues, my world has been turned upside down by the hastily-announced “restructuring”. For example:
    – Incessant curriculum meetings.
    – A nasty power-bid by colleagues who have used GE to ratchet up their staff numbers and degree of control over budgets and decisionmaking (without any evidence of superior research performance or teaching quality).
    – A new “School” (one of several) created in which – literally – the non academic staff and managers disappeared one week to be replaced by people we have never seen before, who now look only at the financial bottom-line and try to create “uniformity” in admin. structures in the Arts faculty, reporting mainly to the Dean….
    – We have three individuals out of 40 or so with advanced levels of stress or on sick leave, two more who have accepted redundancy, and several who are looking for new jobs.
    – Our postgrads are in revolt, as previous offers of tutoring and demonstrating have been rescinded or diminshed.

    Davis et. al. have underestimated (by at least three years) the time it takes to undertake full restructuring of this scale. Surprising since he works on public sector management. Teaching and research has been severely compromised among the academics, while we are simultaneously being asked to increase research performance, look to international student markets, improve teaching, and teach into “breadth” subjects that largely provide benefits to the host department (not the lecturer, if based elsewhere). Degrees of hostility towards management and towards some colleagues has been increased across campus, largely by the decision to re-advertise many of the non-academic and management posts, and to squash together into new Schools people that were in separate Schools for very, very good reasons (longstanding animosities, incompatible teaching programs, etc). Units with less than spotless teaching and research records are unjustly targetted by Faculty and central Admin. edicts, giving them insufficient resources to make improvements. The established Departmental Big Players are asserting themselves in the grab for Graduate Schools and new positions. There is total chaos about how budgets will be allocated from 2008 (redundancies, for example, were supposed to be at no cost to the Department, but now they will cost is big $$$ to finance – this changed within 2 weeks. School Business Plans have now been requested with 2 week’s notice). Many of the new subjects that are supposed to be on offer are still in the draft stage (literally, in my case – the Uni has only just given us the development money). There are insufficient large lecture theatres on campus to teach large numbers, so we have to teach some first year and Breadth subjects twice or more a year.
    And after all the hosrse-trading, moving of staff, drawing up of Business Plans, etc. the constitution of Faculties could, yet, change again. We are also, down here in the trenches, expecting whole Departments and more people to be axed. The Union seems powerless to resist.

    In all of this (and this is the third restructuring I have been in, on three continents) there are winners. Law and Medecine are sitting pretty. So are Economics and Commerce. But any units that really depend on central support to retain coherence and teaching are really struggling. If universities were supposed to float in a free market, they would never have esitied in this form – but more like the University of Phoenix, where staff are expendable and teaching is entirely financially driven.

    In many respects this is where Alan Gilbert was heading with UniMelb (see John Cain’s now outdated account of that phase, Off Course). It is quite extrordinary that the level of staff and student dissatisfaction seems not to have filtered through to management, or much to the media either. Actually it has to management – there was a secret poll of 800 of us recently. The responses, which we have never been shown, appeared to show a level of dissatisfaction, but how much, we do not know.

    It was not broke, and if it needed fixing, this certainly did not need to involve change to established high quality teaching by Unimelb academics, and massively increased job insecurity.

    Resturcturing needs to be fully participatory, democratic, and transparent. It is not. Possibly the worst restructuring I have seen in 15 years.


  36. I’m not on the top of the detail in Arts, but as I understand it some GE related changes are being caught up in changes occurring for other reasons.

    But it is nothing like Gilbert, who tried to leave the university’s basic structures much as they were while generating external sources of finance to keep them going.


  37. I fully support SP’s comments. As a staff member in a different faculty, I have seen the same things. The chaos has been terrible and the future uncertain for both staff and students. I have also seen how some individuals have taken advantage of the chaos to further their careers at the expense of others.
    The faculty of Medicine has done very well because it has been able to do what it wanted, extended the medical degree to 3 yrs undergrad (premed course = B. Biomed) plus 4 years post grad. A better revenue stream, but predicted not quite good enough to maintain the staff at present levels. Like the Arts faculty, staff cuts are being contemplated, probably from 2010. Interesting times ahead. What do you say to VCE students on Discovery Day this year….


  38. Mushroom, what is the alternative? If the new med sequence takes the same number of years (3 years B.Biomed. and 4 years M.D. versus what I think was 7 years for a combined M.B and B.S.) and the new option yields more revenue, then presumably staff cuts must already have been in the pipeline before the change if they are still there now?


  39. DE: MBBS at Melb. Uni. has been a six year combined degree for as long as I can remember. Other universities have managed to whittle it down to 5 years (Newcastle, Monash). We are going the other direction.

    The new MD degree is interesting from two angles. It used to be a post-MBBS higher degree, equivalent to 2 years full-time research. Now everyone will have an MD just by doing medicine (as is the case in the US). Those here who already have an MD may feel a bit peeved, and all those who have the standard MBBS medical training, either at Melb. Uni., or at other Australian universities (now and in the future), may also feel uneasy by the perceived differences.


  40. Since posting those earlier comments, we have seen widespread media coverage of ‘Growing Esteem’ in the Age and Australian in mid-2007, and the general dissatisfaction with the changes has continued. A $12m debt in Arts was discovered and reported. As a response, new changes to the curriculum have been mooted by consultants (fewer majors, new alliances – in other words, cuts). Cross-university ‘invitations’ to redundancy have been issued recently. The Dean of Arts has resigned after a year, but wisely there is no reporting of exactly why and the departure has been played down. A new Faculty is slowly in creation, removing some academics from Arts. The School structure is still not agreed in a few areas – and the new degrees start in 2008!.
    I stand by what I have said: too much change too quickly, and it could be that the whole exercise was about saving money from the outset rather than improving ‘esteem’ (which was already high?)?
    Shame, because otherwise it is a great university. Fortunately, we are still getting on with teaching as before….


  41. SP – You are blurring two things here – cost over-runs that would have been pulled back regardless of other changes, and curriculum reform that is consistent with Growing Esteem.


  42. I have little faith now in any of the hype or propaganda coming from the VC’s office. I can’t remember the last time a large faculty like Arts or Science was publicly ‘outed’ as being in serious debt and asked to cut staff across the board. Arts may have gone into the red, but I think the move to the Melbourne Model was a deciding factor in the response. Bean counters are doing the sums and coming up with bleak outlooks, despite the smiles and rhetoric from the VC. Arts is first on the chopping block because it is so easy to pillory. Would the public care if they chopped Arts out completely? Aren’t they just a bunch of post-modernists that couldn’t keep track of a bank account if you paid them? 😉

    The financial difficulties extend wider than the Arts faculty. Other faculties are also in dubious financial positions under the new Model. Medicine included. The PR consultants will be hard pressed to come up with a convincing story to cover future cuts to the medical faculty. Will they blame that Dean for mismanagement ?

    Engineering may also need trimming if students don’t roll up to start courses that are not even accredited yet. In the new model engineering course they will only be exposed to teaching by engineers for two years. Why risk it at Melbourne when you can get a perfectly good, conventional, and world recognised engineering degree at Monash or RMIT?

    Another issue with financial consequences is the fiasco regarding honours courses in the Science faculty. It is a dogs breakfast. Currently you can do a 1-year honours year after the 3-year B.Sc. degree, but the Melb. Model asserts that this should be replaced by a 2-year M.Sc. It has been recently proposed that each department can choose to have either or BOTH. This may seem trivial but it means a 1 year difference in entry to a Ph.D. program. Why do an M.Sc. at Melbourne when you can do a 1 year honours year at a nearby university (any of them!), and then proceed to a Ph.D. ? As I recall, a year was a long time when you are 20-something, and HECS charges are not insignificant.


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