In "The Australian idea of a university" (August 23, 2013), Glyn Davis argues that "Professional training dominated Australian universities from their earliest expression". He suggests the influences on Australia's first university where from the British Isles, but not just England's Oxbridge, also Scotland and Ireland. In 2022 the role of the Australia university seems much as Davis describes in 2013, perhaps not surprisingly, given this is dictated by legislation. But will the pandemic, technology, and international competition, change that?
Davis suggests the Australian National University's (ANU) approach came in part from US research universities. While ANU started out as a post-graduate institution, he points out that it soon acquired undergraduate students by absorbing Canberra University College.
Australian universities in 2020 are still predominately as Davis described in 2013, with students undertaking work related courses, in a broad range of disciplines. That is not surprising, in that Australian legislation requires a university to be undertaking research in multiple disciplines, as a condition of registration. Specialist universities are explicitly excluded. There are some exceptions to this, such as Torrens, which is essentially an online university, and Open Universities Australia (a consortium of universities for online education).
Davis describes Australian universities of 2013 as "commuter", presumably meaning students do not live on campus. While this is presumably significant for a university's finances, & socialization of students, does it have much to do with their education? In 2022 most students do not live on campus, but there has of course been the rise of on-campus international students.
The question for universities in 2022 is, of course, what happens post-pandemic? The emergency move to online learning showed the benefits, and limitations, of the technology. Australia's generalist universities generally coped well. Should they each simply add an online option to their learning offerings, or is there scope for specialist institutions, or perhaps expansion of collaborations like Open Universities Australia?
The Australian government has promoted some cooperative efforts through Australian University centers in key Asian markets for international students. However, Australian universities have not shown great enthusiasm for investing in such cooperative efforts, preferring to compete, rather than join under a brand Australia.
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