peteg's blog - noise - politics - 2007 05 24 UNSW

Fiascos at UNSW.

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This is so strange; somehow in these past few weeks UNSW has garnered a lot of press for what look like pretty shitty reasons:

  • The Arts faculty can't afford teaching support staff (tutors). While I sympathise with this predicament and fully expect the students' experiences to slide even further down the crapper, I'm not sure Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Social Sciences Dr Sarah Maddison is completely right to sheet the blame home to the Feds:

    "The Federal Government has abandoned the humanities in higher education funding and we are bearing the brunt. It has consistently underinvested in this area over the past decade and we are now at a structural disadvantage when compared with other disciplines."

    My understanding (and I'd like to be corrected if wrong) is that the funding decisions at the Faculty level are handled by the Chancellery, within the uni. Sure, the Feds may well have decided that a NICTA-like entity for the social sciences would be tantamount to offering an arse-cheek to a tiger, but that is about research, not teaching. Let them blame Professor Fred Hilmer, I reckon, then sack the lot of them.

  • In the same Smage article, the uni has announced that it will reduce the academic session to twelve weeks from the current fourteen. Justification?

    The staff cuts follow the announcement of a number of streamlining measures at the university, including the reduction of the teaching semester from 14 to 12 weeks and a review of the bachelor of arts degree. Under the review, the number of courses in which students can major will fall from 45 to 37 in 2009.

    The university administration claims the changes are designed to "streamline teaching and learning".

    In a message sent to students on Monday, the pro-vice chancellor, Professor Joan Cooper, said the reduced semester would bring "UNSW in line with other Australian universities" and "facilitate new pedagogic practices".

    Yep, I regret that my education was not streamlined. According to JAS the main operational implication is that all courses need to be adjusted (mangled) into this new format, and apparently the Chancellery is yet to propose how this will be funded. Blame Professor Fred Hilmer I reckon. You'll note the reasoning is similar to his world class policy on general staff numbers. Still, I'm sure the clown will be all cashed up for another year of hijinks. "I came to UNSW for the morale of the student body," I can hear it now.

  • Strangest of all is the closing of the Singapore campus (UNSW Asia) after less than a session:

    The university has already spent $17.5 million on the project, but it had guaranteed a further $140 million for the construction of a permanent campus in South Changi.

    Professor Fred Hilmer said the university had lost $15 million in not reaching its anticipated enrolment numbers, and as a result it was unable to borrow the money it needed. "I don't want to play a blame game [but] I inherited a situation," he said.

    Those enrolment numbers, from an email he sent to staff:

    The UNSW Asia campus currently has 148 enrolled students, with some 100 of these being Singapore residents. The anticipated enrolment for the initial intake in 2007 was 300 students. Second semester enrolments were anticipated at 480 students but it is clear that this target would not be met.

    Those enrolment numbers, from the advertising agency:

    Singapore - The University of New South Wales Asia (UNSW Asia) has awarded its regional creative and media accounts to AGI Communications - the agency won the business without a pitch.

    The new tertiary institution made the retainer appointment - understood to be valued at around $1.5 million - on the back of its launch in Singapore, in an effort to achieve its first year admission target of 1200 students through attracting students from across Asia.

    Still, I'm glad he can exercise the wagging figure this time, for otherwise one might get the impression there's something rotten in the administration of this world-class institution.

Now, if they were in any way serious about bringing "UNSW in line with other Australian universities" or being even more world-class they'd be looking at the University of Melbourne's "Melbourne Model" and wondering if they couldn't interest the Sydney market in something similar, or perhaps even better.