Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Friday, November 09, 2007

University of New England re-organises - 10 new professorial heads of schools to be appointed

I was fascinated to read that the University of New England, the oldest university located in Regional Australia, is advertising no less than 10 professorial heads of schools.

The move is one outcome from the University's latest strategic review during which it redefined its role as "achieving regional and global impact", thus trying bridge and integrate two key elements that have always existed within the institution.

All of Australia's universities have been, to use the old quote, "living in interesting times." Because of demographic change, numbers in the traditional feeder cohorts are down from their peak, increasing competition for students. Funding has been squeezed, making universities more reliant on international full fee paying students. There is also more competition for research dollars.

In all this, Regional Australia's universities continue to offer a more personalised alternative than many of the metros.

Part of the reason for this lies in size. Some of the major metro universities are simply huge.

According to the latest stats that I could find, in 2006 the University of Sydney had 45,848 students, UNSW 38,776 and UTS (Sydney) 32,712. In theory, size allows the universities to offer a wide range of courses. In practice, size often translates to bigger classes and tutorials, to remoteness, to lack of contact with staff.

Overseas, full fee paying students, is another variable. In 2006, Sydney had 9,680 overseas students, UTS 8,954 and UNSW 8,618. These are big groups. In theory, the presence of overseas students should enrich campus life, and indeed it does in some cases. The problem in practice, however, is that the very large number of overseas students makes for lack of integration and interaction between them and local students.

In all this, the University of New England faces a particular challenge because of the small size of the immediate population base surrounding the University. New England has to persuade its internal students to move from home to live on or near the main Armidale campus. While this makes for an intense student experience, the University still faces a significant challenge because of the stay at home nature of a high proportion of the nation's metro young.

Despite the problems, the University's collegiate, residential, feel remains one of its greatest strengths because it clearly differentiates the University from its metro rivals.

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