Friday, February 19, 2010

Around New England's Universities February 2010

From time to time I do a round-up of news at New England's various universities. This seems to the right time to do another one with the new academic year just getting underway. It's very interesting, in fact, for the three institutions are very different because of location and history.

At Southern Cross University, the big news has revolved around the University's Gold Coast campus. Orientation kicked off at the new campus on 15 February, with the building officially opened by Deputy PM Julia Gillard on 17 February.

In welcoming Ms Gillard, the Chancellor Mr Dowd, said Southern Cross University had a very clear mission to deliver on the federal government’s education revolution.

“We have more than 16,000 students studying with us, and that number will grow exponentially with this new facility,” Mr Dowd said.

“Only 18 per cent of people at the Gold Coast aged between 25-34 years possess a Bachelor degree or above. This is around half the national average. Fifty-three per cent of all young people in this region are not pursuing any form of education beyond year 12.

“These stark realities stand in contrast to the sun and surf image of the region. We therefore need to add another ‘S’ to this image – that of scholarship."

Other SCU stories included:

  • the launch of a carpool, 39 new scholarships under the rising stars program
  • orientation week activities for around 3000 newly enrolled students for OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         on-campus study and around 900 students who will be studying by distance education
  • Southern Cross University and ChildFund lead cutting edge research on Vietnamese children. The  project involves interviews with 50 children from the rural province of Bac Kan, north of Hanoi. In a culture where children are traditionally ‘seen but not heard’, engaging children in having a say is both important and challenging.

Moving south, the University of Newcastle celebrates the graduation of more than 1,100 students the Central Coast campus. This is an integrated program involving the University, TAFE and the Central Coast Community College. Of the 1,162 students graduating, 931 have completed University of Newcastle programs, 210 have completed TAFE qualifications and a further 21 are graduating from the Central Coast Community College.

On 3 February, the University of signed an agreement with global education provider, Navitas, who are establishing the Newcastle International College on the Callaghan (Newcastle) campus.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nicholas Saunders, said the college would be pivotal in the University's growth.

"The University has been working to grow its student numbers. However, in an increasingly competitive market, it is vital that we increase the number of international students coming to Newcastle."

International student numbers at Newcastle have grown over the past five years by almost 30 per cent. Onshore international enrolments now comprise approximately 15 per cent of total enrolments, but this remains below the sector average, which stands at about 20 per cent.

"Working with Navitas as it establishes Newcastle International College will expand the base of international students to the University across a broad range of our programs," Professor Saunders said.

The college will provide programs to international students across a number of disciplines. Successful completion will enable graduates to progress directly to the second year of a university level program.

Other University of Newcastle stories included:

  • Recognition for the work of forensic dentist Dr Jane Taylor in the award of an Australian Federal Police Operations Medal for her work identifying victims of the Bali bombing in 2002 and the Boxing Day Tsunami in Thailand in 2004.
  • Formalisation of the The Making Educational Goals Sustainable (MEGS) program between the University, Hunter TAFE and NSW DET (Department of Education and Training). This aims to promote education amongst students from targeted equity groups. The new MoU will formalise the partnership and will significantly expand the program with over 650 Year 6 students and their parents visiting the University of Newcastle this year. For many, this will be the first time that they have been in contact with a university.Launching Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank.
  • The launch (photo) of a new data base intended provide schizophrenia researchers across Australia with access to new information to help them treat the condition. This automates data collected by the Schizophrenia Research Institute's University of Newcastle group and collects genetic, clinical and neurological information from up to 4,000 volunteers across Australia.

At the University of New England, new VC Professor Jim Barber has also been welcoming new students at the first day of orientation activities. 

More than 1,000  new students attended the official welcome, during which Alicia Zikan, the undergraduate student representative on the UNE Council, also spoke to them about the unique opportunities at UNE for meeting people - both students and staff members - and making friends.

“In your colleges you’re already part of a strong social network,” Ms Zikan said, adding that there were also social networks for students living in the town.

“You’ll have opportunities that students at other universities - sitting in a lecture theatre with 900 other students - can only dream of,” she said.

Professor Barber followed the same theme:

“Our mission at UNE is to change your life,” he told the new students who, together with parents and friends, gathered yesterday on the lawns of “Booloominbah” - the picturesque heart of the University’s campus.

Professor Barber predicted that, as well as acquiring “skills that will make your career” and “a passport to travel the world”, they would make life-long friendships - many even finding their life partner.

“I’m more confident of making these predictions about UNE than I would be about any other university,” he said, explaining that the strong and lasting friendships formed at UNE were something he had been aware of throughout his career.

“I hope you’ll be proud of being UNE alumni,” he concluded. “Welcome, good luck, and let your new life begin!”

The University also reported the results of an unexpected finding in a new research report on science education commissioned by the National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR) at the University that involved around 590 teachers and 3,800 students throughout the country.

Despite the current serious decline in the proportion of senior high-school students taking science subjects, there has been no corresponding decline in students’ enjoyment of science, their appreciation of its importance to society, or their interest in science careers.

If I understand the results correctly, the crux of the problem lies not in lack of interest, but rather in a widening of school choices that has reduced the role of traditional science core subjects.

Other February stories included:

  • The opening of a new state of the art $A6.3 million greenhouse complex for plant research. In outlining the structure and function of the greenhouse complex, Professor Gross said it included 25 separate rooms, in each of which temperature and watering could be controlled independently.
  • Scientists and research students from five continents participated in the ninth annual Armidale Animal Breeding Summer Course, becoming familiar with the latest genetic technologies for predicting the performance of individual farm animals.
  • Industry Placement Scholarships were awarded to 21 school leavers this summer giving them an PICSIE awards insight into the career opportunities available to science graduates in primary industries. Each student attended a five-day “Science to Industry Camp” based at the University, extending to agriculture-related businesses and laboratories throughout the region. They also completed a five-day “industry placement” working with professional scientists.
  • Andreas Mehl , a distinguished Professor of Ancient History from Germany, is to give a public lecture at the University of New England on 5 March entitled “How the Romans recorded, remembered, thought about, and used their past”. This will be the first lecture for 2010 in UNE’s “Aspects of Antiquity” lecture series, now in its 17th year.

Three universities, three very different stories. Each reflects the different pasts of three very different institutions. In a later post, I will put this in historical context.  

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