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Radical changes ahead for Melbourne Uni -

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Radical changes ahead for Melbourne Uni

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

KERRY O'BRIEN: Melbourne University tomorrow unveils a radical shift away from the traditional
English-style degree structure to embrace a system closer to elite American universities. From
2008, the existing 96 undergraduate degrees will be abolished over four years and replaced by six
broad based degree courses, including arts, science and commerce. In a new two tiered system, all
of the specific professional courses, like law, medicine and engineering, will be introduced as a
second-tier degree. For some students, it will mean a longer journey to become fully qualified in
their profession and in some post graduate courses, up to half the students will be paying full
fees. The university will also introduce a significantly enhanced scholarship program. Melbourne
University vice chancellor Glyn Davis says it's the way of the future if Australia wants to compete
with the rest of the world and he's won at least qualified support from both the Federal Government
and Labor. So, is it inevitable that the rest of Australia's top universities will be forced to
follow suit? And where will that leave other cash strapped unis around the country that might not
have the same market power? How will it impact on students? I spoke late today with vice chancellor
Davis from his Melbourne office.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Glyn Davis, is this about a better university education system or is it about a more
efficient way of raising necessary money through full-fee paying students to make up for
diminishing public funding?

GLYN DAVIS, VICE-CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE: It's about a better educational set of
choices for Australian students. It's about providing a pathway where you can do a broad
undergraduate degree before you have to make your specialty choice into a professional graduate
course. It's about providing in this country the quality of education that's familiar in North
America, increasingly in Europe and in much of North Asia.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Let me quote from an interview that you gave on this program in November of 2005.
"The Australian electorate has clearly shown no appetite for significant additional public funding
for universities. We've heard loud and clear through multiple elections that we have to look after

GLYN DAVIS: Absolutely.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That does mean, doesn't it, that funding is at the heart of these changes?

GLYN DAVIS: No. If this was solely about raising additional funding, this isn't the way you would
go. This is a more expensive way to teach, and it isn't necessarily the case that there's a huge
appetite in Australia to pay higher fees. It is, however, about defining our own future rather than
having it chosen for us, which is our current fate. And to do that, we want to change the mix of
students that we bring into this university. But I stand by those words in November, 2005. The
Australian electorate has had multiple opportunities to say, 'We value universities,' and that
hasn't been the resounding message. And all of us in the higher education system understand that we
have to take responsibility for our own fate.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So, part of the bottom line of what you're going to lead Melbourne University into
is that you'll end up with fewer undergraduate students and many more full fee paying students. Is
that the case?

GLYN DAVIS: We will end up with marginally fewer undergraduate students, a process that will take
between now and 2026. It's an extremely gradual change and we will shift our number of fee-paying
students from roughly a quarter to roughly a third, and in that, we'll be following a trend that
has been long established at this and other institutions. The key difference for us will be that
our student body will go to about half undergraduate and about half graduate, and that's a very
different model of education and a very different philosophy of what it is we want to do at the
undergraduate level and then in graduate school.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You say that the North American model has got it right, but you're talking about, I
assume, the elite universities like Harvard or Berkeley. What about America's second- or third-tier
universities that are crying out for funding? Is that where Australia will inevitably end up, with
elite and impoverished as the two bookends of our tertiary sector?

GLYN DAVIS: As opposed to the current situation, where impoverished is the starting point for us
all, there will never be or at least I think it highly unlikely there will ever be an elite private
institution of a Harvard or Yale scale in Australia. We don't see that model anywhere else in the
world except America. But what America does have is a tier of public universities, Michigan,
Berkeley, many others, that provide an excellent template for Australia - high quality
research-intensive institutions, typically half undergraduate and half graduate, able to offer
their students a superb quality of education, able to embody the values of a public institution,
not as well supported and well-endowed as a Harvard or a Yale but in their own right doing a
fantastic job of providing public education. That's where we aspire to be.

KERRY O'BRIEN: It does sound as if you're relying on an enhanced scholarship program to give at
least a veneer of equity and a kind of a floor of equity, but that won't guarantee equity, will it?

GLYN DAVIS: Well, veneer is a patronising word. We are announcing tomorrow a $100 million roll out
of scholarships over the next three years, to make sure that as many students as we can support can
get to this university. Eight-thousand-two-hundred students will benefit from this scholarship
program. It is a genuine commitment to equity. Would we like to have more scholarships? Yes, we
would, but even with Australia's largest endowment, at $1.2 million, we're fully stretched to
provide 8,200 students with scholarships.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Is it simplistic to suggest that that seems to be heading towards a Menzies-era
university system? Reliance on scholarships for equity?

GLYN DAVIS: It is indeed the likely direction. In Australia, we've invented the Higher Education
Contribution Scheme, HECS. It is a brilliant public policy innovation because it ensures that up
front fees do not exclude anyone from coming to university. But as we now know from the AVCC survey
of student finances, many students are struggling during their university years to stay afloat
financially. Scholarships and bursaries are really important to making sure that students can get
through their five years of study, or whatever the period is, and can graduate and go into their
chosen professions. To be able to do that, we need a system of scholarships and bursaries.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Isn't it inevitable - or, is it inevitable - that the other so called sandstone
universities, mostly the oldest unis, that had the head start over the others, will inevitably end
up following your model because they're the ones mostly with the market power and that the others
would be left to follow suit as best they can?

GLYN DAVIS: There really is sandstone on the campus. It's not so cold. But it is the case that
every institution will have to make its own call and some may well choose to follow this model. I
would welcome that. But what I would not welcome is everybody following the model. The whole idea
of a better higher education system is to have diversity, is to ensure that students have choice.
Some students will be absolutely determined from school to go straight into law or medicine, or
their chosen profession. They should have the ability to do that. A system that imposes just one
model provides no real choice. In making these changes, we at Melbourne are trying to provide a
range of choices, knowing that for some students that's a brilliant set of decisions. For other
students, it's just not what they're looking for.

KERRY O'BRIEN: What do you say to the students who express the view that some of these courses are
now going to take six or seven years, that they simply can't afford to spend six or seven years
getting their professional degree?

GLYN DAVIS: The majority of our students at present do a three year undergraduate degree and then
they go out into employment. That will continue to be the case under this new model. But for those
who are currently doing double degrees, which is a significant minority, they will tend to do
sequential degrees. You'll do a Bachelor of Commerce and then your law degree and we'll offer the
law degree and other graduate qualifications in intensive mode. We'll teach right across the year.
We'll give you the capacity to do that in two years if you choose so that you can graduate at five
years with a commerce/law degree, just as now.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Glyn Davis, thanks very much for talking to us.

GLYN DAVIS: Thank you.