Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New UNSW Campus in Canberra for 10,000 Students

The ACT Government has announced discussions with the University of New South Wales for a new campus for up to 10,000 students in Canberra. The ACT Government describes this as being "alongside" the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) Reid campus. However, news reports, such as in the Canberra Times, characterize this as a   redevelopment of the CIT site for UNSW and CIT.

The CIT Reid campus is in need of renewal (I was a student there in 1990 and it does not seem to have changed much). The building need to be refurbished or replaced to suit the new teaching techniques.

One aspect not discussed in the announcement, or media reports, is a possible role for the National Convention Centre Canberra (NCCC) in teaching. The NCCC is across the road from CIT and linked by a pedestrian bridge. The NCCC is also in need of renewal, no longer being adequate for national or international conferences. However, there has been no viable strategy to upgrade the NCCC by the ACT Government. It may be possible to have NCCC as part of a dual use university facility.

Modern university teaching facilities resemble a convention center, with large flexible spaces, movable seating and walls. Universities don't need large permanent lecture theaters, as students spend very little of their time in lectures. The new Australian National University union court will have large flat floor rooms, with Tiered Retractable Seating. At the push of a button a room can be converted from a flat open conference exhibition space, to a theater. Other rooms will have movable walls for meetings of dozens to hundreds of people. Something similar might be provided for UNSW/CIT.

As the ACT Government announcement notes, higher education is an important part of the Australian and Canberra economy. However, this depends on a fickle international student market which, like the extractive industry, can change rapidly. Australia is currently experiencing an unprecedented boom in student numbers. This could change without warning in a matter of days due to regional tensions, or incidents involving international students in Australia.

In the longer term, developed nations (including Australia) will continue to expand e-learning as an alternative to international student travel. I spent the last three years as an international Canadian graduate student, without ever having set foot on the campus I was studying at in Canada. Next week I will discuss a proposal for ANU to have 200,000 m-learning students.

Also countries in our region will continue to build their own universities to educate their own, and international students. Canberra's institutions will need to be able to offer a reasonably priced, quality blended programs to remain competitive with these international offerings.

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