Sunday, April 22, 2018

Australian University Campuses Are Not Too Large

In "Rise of the monster campus devouring uni communities" (The Australian, 18 April 2018), Geoff Hanmer, Managing Director of ARINA suggests the ideal university campus has 10,000 to 20,000 students. He cautions Australia has too many large campuses and points out the average US four-year college has less than 5,000 students, whereas the median for Australian universities is over 20,000.

I agree that large university campuses can be overwhelming.  But where the university blends with the city, as it does in Oxford, Cambridge, Melbourne and Canberra, a large university can add to a vibrant urban culture.

Australia doesn't have many small US style colleges, as government regulations and international market don't encourage them. The regulations make it difficult to set up a non-university tertiary institution and the market makes it hard to sell such an institution to an international market.

Hanmer points out that smaller campuses have higher Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) scores. However, universities use their research ranking to market to students and those rankings favor the large institutions. Students are not very interested in teaching quality when looking for an institution. After enrolling and discovering that a research reputation doesn't equate good teaching, it is too late to change.

In any case, the move to on-line education is resulting in student numbers being decoupled from campus size. My rule of thumb is that the average student needs to do 20% of their studies on campus. A university with one campus can have 50,000 to 100,000 full time equivalent students enrolled and still be in Hanmer's "sweet spot". Only one fifth of these students would be on campus at the same time.

It should be noted that one of Australia's largest universities already has 60,000 students and no campus. This is the Open Universities Australia on-line consortium of institutions.

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