Is Melbourne self-destructing?

After talking about it for years, its now official. Today’s Australian announced that the University of Melbourne is going to copy the American liberal-arts style university system. They intend to do away with all specialisations and have 6 broad faculties. Students can pick and mix the courses they like most. Students only fan out into specialisations after the first 3 years, which allows the Uni to scrap a lot of the specialist courses in the first 3 years. The hope is that brilliant students will get a broad understanding of the world, after which the more ambitious ones delve into a specialism. The immediate reaction from some of the other universities (UQ, UWA) was teling: interesting but they’re not going to do it. They’ll wait to see what happens.

This is the right time to make predictions. Mine is that things are not going to go well for the Uni of Melbourne and that the other universities are right not to copy its example. I predict the following train of events to occur: in these broad faculties and accross them, students of very different abilities are going to follow courses in different schools. Initially, the schools will try to maintain standards and fail a lot of these ‘side-streamers’. This will upset the hierarchy and the bureaucracy who dont want complaining and failing students. Hence they will pressure the schools to make their courses more ‘accessible’ to outside students (a process that has gone on for quite a while now accross Australia). Schools will try to resist by adding entry barriers, requirements, etc. Indeed, they’re already trying to erect those as we speak. The bureaucracy and the hierarchy will counter this because they make their money on large classes with happy students and hence will do away with having many requirements for a course. The hierarchy and the bureaucracy will win. Standards will drop and I predict they will drop by quite a bit. Just think of how much you have to dumb-down to let a marketing student pass a third year engineering or economic theory course! This in turn means the entry level of students going into honours, PhD and Masters will be a lot lower and these degrees will effectively start to contain the same courses now axed by Melbourne, with the net result a lowering of standards at that end too. The better researchers are going to avoid teaching the undergraduate courses because they dont want to see themselves as child minders, which will atrophy the curriculum. At some point, the clever students (or their parents) are going to wake up to this and go to other universites where more demanding and intensive courses with lots of pre-requisites are still in place (perhaps abroad). Melbourne will eventually see its mistake and try to re-introduce what they axed in a half-hearted way. My guess would be a two-tier system, with low quality education along the lines now introduced for the masses (including nearly all the foreign students) and top education for the bright ones at the start.
But, you may interject, arent they doing this in the States already? Well, not quite. For one, American universities have to make up for the poor quality received by American kids in many high schools. And bear in mind that in America, about 50% of the population goes to uni, compared to some 35% here. Both imply that your average student here is going to be a lot better and more broadly educated than the average American undergraduate. Giving kids some broad understanding of the world is what in Australia and Western Europe supposedly already happens at school. Hence, the standards and type of teaching at undergraduate level in America are more a function of what feeds in to them rather than something you want to emulate per se. Also, many American universities do offer specialisations. I believe that the university of Michigan for instance runs honours programs for the whole of the 4 years where they hence have the current specialisations for smaller groups of students. Hence to elevate American universities as the model to emulate is IMO a mistake. The American economy has a lot going for it, but its undergraduate education aint it.

We are here of course presuming that Melbourne’s VC actually gets his way. Despite the current announcement, I’m not sure he will get his way. The schools will almost undoubtedly try to protect their courses and hinder him in every way possible. The long length that Melbourne has given itself to implement all this leaves a lot of room and time for sabotage. I worked for a year in the school of economics at Melbourne and had a great time there and have great respect for the ability of the schools to resist silly plans from above. Its going to be a ‘battle royal’ in Melbourne for some time to come. And one shouldnt think that Melbourne can now be written off: the University of Melbourne is a very rich place with huge endowments and resources. It can afford a big mistake like this and will undoubtedly bounce back.

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37 Responses to Is Melbourne self-destructing?

  1. Patrick says:

    You are kidding aren’t you?

    It was official years ago – this was just the public launch. There is not going to be any ‘resisting’ because the faculties benefit enormously from the shift to graduate studies – they get better students who pay more attention, etc, and more money. Not to mention students benefit because their graduate degrees will be tax-deductible if they are employed prior to the degree.

    Melbourne will be huge winner from this, especially in international rankings.

  2. Joshua Gans says:

    My goodness. What an amazing set of predictions based on clearly no real examination of the Melbourne Model and the fact that it is all in place and agreed to. Paul, I don’t think you know what you talking about on this one.

    This is happening next year and the students will be the winners for it.

  3. Patrick,
    they announced the scrapping of 100 courses for which they’ll take about a decade to phase in and you expect no resistance?

    I know the spin Melbourne has put on this is that its graduate schools will improve and be internationally famous. I’m predicting you the demise of the quality of its undergraduate degree due to the mixing of different ability students. In most universities the graduate entry comes from the undergraduates. Despite Melbourne’s brand name, I dont expect that Melbourne can divorse its graduate programs from what’s taught at the undergrad level and hence that they’ll be at a disadvantage compared to the specialist undergraduate degrees. I can tell you within economics that the ‘official family’ (RBA, Treasury, ministries, overseas PhD programs, etc.) generally prefers someone who did a lot of economics over someone doing a bit in a package of other programs. Indeed, why do you think American grad schools are full of foreigners? They’re often much better than the American undergrads.

  4. Paul Frijters says:

    Josh,
    my goodness, an (ex?) Melbourne employee defending his employer by the 1-line prediction that the students will be the winner! Of course I dont know everything there is to know about the Melbourne model and am basing my predictions on a limited understanding. I’ve read the statements by your boss, have dug up a little on the website and talked to couple of people at Melbourne. What are you basing your unargued prediction on?

    Aren’t you an expert in Industrial Organisation? You should know that organisations implementing radical change are ex ante apparently united and confident that everything will work out fine, and surprised after the event how many things they didnt anticipate happened and how many internals worked against them, that blew them of course? In stead of giving me a lazy one-liner you’d do better to argue your point seriously.

  5. Anthony says:

    ‘Students only fan out into specialisations after the first 3 years, which allows the Uni to scrap a lot of the specialist courses in the first 3 years’

    No, students go into the professional schools (law, medicine, engineering, teaching, nursing, architecture) after a three year undergraduate degree. So, to say ‘Just think of how much you have to dumb-down to let a marketing student pass a third year engineering course’ doesn’t make sense. Engineering will – eventually – only be offered as a graduate-entry degree.

    Specialisation will occur within undergraduate degrees pretty much exactly as it does now: students enrolled in a BComm or BA etc will do a ‘major’. The Faculties might be a bit more prescriptive/proscriptive about what subjects you can enrol in in first year than they have been in the past, but there will also be the ability to complement the major with a range of other study areas (as you can now) – including the odd subject taken from another faculty, I gather, which was always a possibility even when I was an undergrad 20 years ago, it’s just that you had to jump through a few hurdles and carry lots of forms around campus from office to office to get signed.

  6. Richard Green says:

    I can see a desire for a university to move to generalist, and signalling degrees, away from specialist, and human capital degrees. After all, if everyone starts getting a signalling bachelors, then they start needing signalling higher degrees to stand out. Look at the explosion of MBAs, and thus the beginnings of DBAs. Ka ching!
    Of course, you’d need the rest of the universities to play along, otherwise the employers will start employing only from other unis with named degrees in the belief those kids have skills, and the prospective students will stay away.

    I can’t shake the feeling liberal education should be left in the dark ages. I can understand there was a time where spending 4 years learning greek and memorising mythology signalled important things to employers, both that you were intelligent and of a sufficiently high class to be able to afford to spend four years learning the esoteric.

    But now the plebs can go to university, we can’t use it to signal them out anymore!

    As for giving the kids a wider understanding of the world, you can lead one to knowledge, but you can’t make them think. They need specialist knowledge for careers, and their future employers want that, and they need a university education. If they want wider knowledge for the sake of being well rounded, they’ve already got access to a fine university library, I doubt they need a professor just for the sake of being cultured, particularly if the students seeking specialist knowledge have to receive generalist knowledge because the course it aimed at every student.

    Of course, they can go on to a professional degree, but they could have got the same for the price of an undergraduate degree and a few trips to the library.

    You can’t force people to be cultured. If they’re inquisitive enough to want further generalist knowledge, there are absolutely no barriers to them receiving it if they make the marginal efforts required to find it in an internet age (if only because it makes catelogues so easy to search). If they don’t, they’ll just whinge through the course.

    I guess there will always be a market for people desiring a piece of paper as testament to their culturedness though. Vanity is lucrative afterall.

  7. Laurie says:

    I have to say, as a Melbourne BA grad, this just annoys me. Way to make my degree worth even less by having even MORE people doing it and being all “oh but EVERYONE does arts. It’s EASY”. No, it isn’t. It takes a certain way of thinking, and although I’d love for Engineering students as a whole to have to learn to think outside of their little boxes, the few Eng students in my first-year sociology course (they had to do some outside-of-eng credits) were boring, bored, and did not want to be there.

    Why should people who KNOW what they want to do have to do three years undergrad in something broad to start with? It will just frustrate them, and mean that everyone will be doing three years undergrad plus four years postgrad in order to get anywhere. It degrades the value of the undergraduate degree.

    Grr.

    And yes, I am aware that I am demonstrating a lack of grammar here. My only defence is that I’m a pol sci major, not english!! :)

  8. Paul Frijters says:

    Antony my sentence about what happens to specialisation and yours mean the same: shoving the specialisms into graduate schools means you scrap them for the first three yeas. Importantly, it implies less student numbers for these demanding courses (less will do graduate dimplomas than current undergraduates), making them easy targets for cost-cutting.
    What was meant with ‘Just think of how much you have to dumb-down to let a marketing student pass a third year engineering course

  9. I perhaps have a U of M conflict of interest too, but Anthony is right: specialisation will not just be continued but be required in the u/g degrees. Everyone must do a major, and more effort is being put in place than before to ensure some coherence to it. Paul is wrong on this, confusing specialisation with vocational specialisation.

    People won’t be allowed to do Honours in their ‘breadth’ subjects so I can’t see that this will have any effect on that or further p/g research study.

    It is being implemented from next year – all the issues Paul talks about in his last paragraph have been exhaustively discussed over the last 18 months. So Paul is wrong on this too. All the decision-making bodies of the University have approved it, as has the federal government. The Opposition has also publicly supported it, so a Labor election victory would not see it stopped.

    And he took a swipe at Andrew Leigh earlier this year for unsubstantiated assumptions!

    The only point made that’s of any consequence is whether the ‘breadth’ subjects will mix too much underlying levels of interest. Lots of people have multiple strong interests – double degrees have been very popular at the U of M for many years and cross-disciplinary study already goes on – but not everyone does. But presumably students who don’t want breadth won’t go to Melbourne in significant numbers.

  10. Anthony says:

    Yeah, what Andrew said. It’s wrong to confuse specialisation with the professional degrees. Anyone undertaking a BComm or BA will specialise just as they do now. (Although some areas of specialisation are no longer open: for example, a major in gender studies is no longer a possibility, a situation bothe students and staff may have legitimate gripes about, but it doesn’t mean sp[ecialisation per se is no longer possible).

    Such undergraduate degree programs will also contain students with an ENTER score that is high enough to get them into, say, law, but under this model they can’t get into law until they’ve completed an undergrad degree. But this is nothing new for the Arts or Commerce faculties: the overwhelming majority of Law students do double degrees and so are already pursuing majors in Commerce or Arts or Science.

    A bigger impact is likely to be felt not in the faculties who offered undergraduate degrees who are now offering ‘new generation’ undergraduate degrees but in the professional faculties that are moving to becoming graduate schools. In my own discipline, law was partly on the way to becoming a generalist degree judged by the vocational destination of law graduates (see Education Age last Tuesday) but was hamstrung by the subservience of law academics to the Council of Legal Education which set the professional admission requirements. Now law is going to be explicitly reduced to a ‘professional degree’, based on the Council of Legal Education requirements, with less room for electives.

    On the other hand, non-Year 12 entry into a law degree is not in itself new: La Trobe followed this path when it first instituted its law degree, and Adelaide Uni experimented with this model form the mid- to late-1980s.

    BTW, ‘new generation’ has the desperation of the marketeers, but yesterday’s launch unveiled the big slogan ‘Dream Large’. So it seems the new generation BA probably won’t place too high a priority good grammar

  11. It is difficult to see how the students will gain from this change to the structure of degrees at Melbourne. They already have the option of doing a broad-based degree if they so choose. However, they also have the option to specialise to a greater extent if that is what they want to do. It sounds like this flexibility will be restricted under the new structure.

  12. swio says:

    I wish I had the option of doing a generic Science/Engineering with my specialistion chosen at the end of year one or two. The degree of specialisation a high school student is forced to choose before they even know what university is about is crazy. How do I know in year 12 if I want to be a Materials Engineer? I don’t even know what that is. But after taking a materials subject I might decide I like it. Of course by then I might be two years into a Physics degree and not be ready to go back and start over again. What a waste.

    Most people know if they want to do a technical, business or humanities higher education by the end of high school. Beyond that its a bit much to ask them to be certain of what they want to do for the rest of their life. I would much prefer uni’s to offer generic entry into Science/Engineering, Commerce/Law and Arts courses specifically designed to give the student a solid foundation an that area and a wide introduction to all the specialities they would choose at the end of year one or two.

  13. conrad says:

    Paul, I think you are far too optimistic about the current standard of teaching at an undergraduate level. I don’t work at Melbourne, but at least where I do (and we often get their students transferring to us — and they are not any better), I find it exceptionally difficult to imagine how you could actually make many of the courses any easier (we have 3rd year subjects in social science areas with multiple choice only exams, for instance). This is not even due to managment decisions all of the time (although it often is) — its often due to other staff. Teaching easy courses gets you good teaching marks and makes you life much easier (no complaints, you don’t have to help the dull students etc.). Not failing people also makes your life easier (almost 100% of students that fail complain, and threats etc. are common — and of course the university couldn’t care less). Perhaps ANU has exceptionally high standards in this regard, but many other places (probably most — and I bet many courses at Melbourne fall into this category) certainly don’t. I therefore find your fears unfounded on the basis that most of them are already here. In addition, you can already see the move toward Masters courses becoming the defacto standard in many areas, with or without the Melbourne model.

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  15. Andrew Leigh says:

    And bear in mind that in America, about 50% of the population goes to uni, compared to some 35% here.

    According to the NCES, the share of the graduate-age population with BAs is 33.2% in the US, and 36.3% in Australia.

  16. Andrew L – I am not sure how NCES arrives at that figure for Australia. ABS Education and Work records that 29.2% of our most educated age cohort (aged 25 to 34 in 2006) has a bachelor degree or above.

    I’m far from expert on US higher education statistics, but in both the Australian and US cases it will be true that more people start university than finish university. I doubt that Paul’s 50% figure is correct (especially not for ‘university’ alone, but if community colleges are counted it could well be heading in that direction), but the going on to uni/college figure will be higher than the educational attaintment number.

  17. Tanya says:

    “American universities have to make up for the poor quality received by American kids in many high schools”

    Ah, not at the higher end they don’t. Many US private schools and those public schools in wealthy areas produce high school graduates that are equivalent of the higher end of other OECD countries. (Real) liberal arts degrees are most commonly found in higher end institutions. The vast majority of these institutions need little remedial assistance, and certainly need no more assistance than what Australian high school graduates need.

    Melbourne (unlike most other Australian ‘universities’) will do just fine with these changes. Australian students and broader Australian society will gain from the decoupling of undergraduate and professional education. The quality of the graduates will be better. Staged entry to the professions will open up professions to a wider range of individuals and help to minimize those that do professional degrees because their 16 year old selves (or their parents) thought they sounded good. The discussion about increased costs is a furphy.

  18. Paul Frijters says:

    Conrad,
    I have to agree with you that what I sketch will happen at Melbourne is already happening in many places and has already happened there in some faculties (partially as a result of bringing in overseas students of varying abilities and prior English language skills). Melbourne is simply accelerating the process.

    Anthony and Andrew N,
    This whole drive is to increase mixing so I suppose I buy the official line on this that more mixing will take place. Also, the 100 scrapped courses they announced are ni these 3 years so there

  19. Paul Frijters says:

    Tanya,
    you’re right that things are different at the top end of the US system, but that’s not the right group for the Uni of Melbourne to compare itself too.
    There are important differences between top American universities and Melbourne. The main one is that Ivy-league unis can charge what they want, allowing them to attract the top teachers and offer small courses for the select few during undergraduates. Melbourne is constrained within the HECS system and its reliance on fee-paying overseas students of varying abilities. It cant charge what it wants, which means that small courses in grad school are very vulnerable. The current discipline-based system somewhat protects those courses in a system of cross-subsidisation whereby schools make their money on the large first-year couses allowing them to offer very advanced small courses in 3rd and sometimes 2nd years that wouldnt survive on their own since you cant charge for the real costs.
    Another big difference is the pool of applicants. Australian unis by and large fish locally, partially because of a lack of a national curriculum and partially because of the high costs of moving (you cant stay with mum and dad and hence have to fnid accommodation in another city!). That means Melbourne uni draws from a population of maybe 5 million. American Ivy-leagues attract people from all over the states (with 300 million people) and they can pull from top students abroad too, making the effective population they can draw from in the order of perhaps up to half a billion people. Hence the quality of undergrad students you see at the very top US places is not something you can realistically aspire too in Melbourne. You

  20. Patrick says:

    Above all, most students straight out of high school are neither ready nor willing to study seriously, something which changes a lot over the ensuing two or three years.

    So, appropriately, they will experience uni life and uni study models, and gain much more exposure to their preferred field, and hopefully several others, before making a informed and motivated choice as to where they will go.

    Where Melbourne will be the real winner will be in other Unis’ recent grads looking to further their studies with a Melbourne post-grad degree.

    And I will repeat, the ‘resistance’ part is just ignorant crap. I find it hard to believe you have based that on anything but your prejudices. Certainly in the law school, all the academic leadership group are committed to and personally invested in the change and the broader academic group are, at worst, broadly positive about the likely improved teaching and research conditions associated with graduate study.

  21. I should make clear that Melbourne is expressly *not* modelling itself on the Ivy League, which are in a global class of their own. There is no precise US analogy, but the good public universities there are closer to Melbourne’s aspirations.

    Also, the University can set any fee it likes and the market will pay for the full-fee places in the graduate schools. Only Commonwealth-supported places have price control.

  22. Paul Frijters says:

    Andrew,
    your VC said yesterday in the Australian that he anticipated 80% of the grads to be Commonwealth-supported. Forgive me for translating price controls on 80% of the students into claiming that Melbourne cannot charge what it wants.
    Glad to hear Melbourne is not modelling itself on the Ivy league. They certainly had me fooled with their harping on about ‘international standards’.

    Patrick,
    your loyalty to your uni is noted. Your words about students coming to fruition in the first 3 years of broad education are the same as those on the promotion advertisements! I am indeed not basing myself on any observable internal dissent now, but forgive me for not believing your story about a united happy campus that will keep singing the same song forever more. Just wait till the demolition ball starts rolling for cracks in the unity to appear. When the pressure is applied to ‘enable’ students with no aptitude for law to pass your exams and you’ll hence be asked to dumb down, I think you’ll see the resistance building. But that’s just a prediction. We’ll see.

  23. “When the pressure is applied to

  24. Anthony says:

    Paul, I can’t honestly understand where you’re coming from on this. First you argue that engineering will be dumbed down to enable marketing students to pass, now that law will be dumbed down to enable students ‘with no aptitude for law’ to pass. Both engineering and law will become graduate degrees. Selection into both will be made on academic merit – and a wider evaluation of academic merit than one solely based on year 12 ENTER scores.

    I can’t see how, under the Melbourne Model (Dreamlarge Inc), there is any increased likelihood that a student with ‘no aptitude for law’ will be enrolled in a law degree in 2008 than would be the case in 2006

  25. Uncle Milton says:

    Paul, you’ve overestimated the extent to which Melbourne undergraduate degrees will be generalist. For starters, the biomedical science degree is basically a pre-med degree. It probably exists only because the all-powerful medical faculty insisted on it as the price to secure their agreement to the Melbourne Model, and it wouldn’t surprise if those who take it are given exemption from a large part of the Melbourne graduate medical degree, if they go on to it.

    The commerce and arts degrees will still be commerce and arts degrees.
    Those who want to pursue highly specialised study of economics, to take up your example will still be able to do so.

    It’s true that Melbourne may no longer attract the very bright students who want to study medicine or law as undergraduates. Presumably they will go to Monash – although the prospect of spending years in the suburban wastelands of Clayton, compared to infinitely more attractive student life in Carlton, may induce some of them to stick to Melbourne and do their law or medicine degrees later.

    The one drawback of the Melbourne model for the study of medicine is for the small number of students who will want to go on and become specialists. As it is, they often don’t complete their studies until they are well into their 30s. If they start 3 years later, they’ll be nearly 40 by the time they are fully qualified.

  26. Patrick says:

    The whole point of moving to graduate studies for disciplines like law and eng is that they are hard, have a not-negligible fail rate and are inherently vocational.

    They are making the courses better – not easier. Also reducing sizes in classes, and increasing teacher accessibility.

    It is a bit ridiculous to note my loyalty to my uni – I would have been as excoriating as you if I thought the plan was a bad one. But I don’t. Your criticisms really do smack of very little thought, let alone actual understanding of what is happening.

    Kinda like Homer’s effort at andrewleigh.com

    Bring Back CL’s blog Says:

    April 19th, 2007 at 11:58 am
    how is this different from any other producer informing consumers they know better than them what is good for them?

    Bring Back CL’s blog Says:

    April 19th, 2007 at 1:07 pm
    I have just leant that in fact market research was undertaken so I take back what I said.

    They have done what Macquarie did in 1982. Reacted to consumer tastes

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  28. rboni says:

    This is what happens when marketing and economic profit becomes the priority in the university sector. Education becomes a secondary concern and society suffers as a whole.

    The University of Melbourne and now the University of Western Australia, are just following government policy, which encourages profit maximization through product differentiation strategies designed to trick people into spending more of their own money than necessary.

    Have a good read of Michael E Porters marketing strategies for large firms, this is where these ideas come from, and they have nothing to do with education.

    http://newmatilda.com/2007/06/06/university-inc

  29. Tel_ says:

    Todays Australian announced that the University of Melbourne is going to copy the American liberal-arts style university system. They intend to do away with all specialisations and have 6 broad faculties. Students can pick and mix the courses they like most. Students only fan out into specialisations after the first 3 years, which allows the Uni to scrap a lot of the specialist courses in the first 3 years.

    Many universities in around Sydney already did this (quite a while back). For example, UTS merged all strands of Engineering into one big Faculty of Engineering but they still support specialisation within that faculty. It makes a bit of sense from the point of view or reducing admin, and also there’s a lot of math that is shared between different types of engineering (previously they were teaching math for Electrical Engineers and then different math for Mechanical Engineers, etc). Further, if an Electrical Engineer wants to pull electives from the Mechanical subjects, why not?

  30. rboni says:

    If units can be amalgamated without reducing a students quality of education thats fine, as long as engineering graduates know how to their specialist jobs thats all that matters. On the other hand forcing engineering students to learn maths there never going to use is pretty point less especially if it means they have to spend more time at university. If a student wants to spend more time at university they can always do a double major or a double degree.

  31. Tel_ says:

    Just think of how much you have to dumb-down to let a marketing student pass a third year engineering course

    If it’s a third year course in recognising the social impact of technology that was stuffed in there to keep the smiley-stamp do-gooders happy, I’d put the engineers and the marketing students on about a par with one another.

    To be honest, I’m against the whole idea of linear structured learning. Everyone should be sent out to work at year 10 high school, then short-courses should be provided for people to enroll in to pick up individual skills that they feel they need, as they feel they need those skills. The courses should be as self contained as possible but if someone can’t handle it then they drop out, try again later.

    The whole sausage factory design to education just gets good results on paper — lots of students go through the motions of learning, get grades and a certificate. None of that means much in terms of real world performance. Having genuinely motivated students with some practical context to what they are learning produces vastly better results.

    The trouble is that the universities want something tangible to sell. They don’t feel comfortable selling vague and poorly-defined educational services to the rest of the economy, they want to sell degrees, or accreditations, or some object that looks shiny and shrink-wrapped packaged as a product. Worse yet, managers want packaged products to buy. They don’t want to evaluate their employees as individuals with multidimensional interests and skills, they want a standard item to fit a standard role. With low-level grunt work, yes the simplistic approach works. With high level brain work, no it doesn’t work.

    For what it’s worth, I’m also against ANY use of a lecture theatre whatsoever. If people can’t read an article on a subject then they aren’t interested enough to learn the subject. The only live face-to-face component of any education should be tutorials (as in question and answer sessions with a group working through an example problem) and laboratory work (i.e. essentially just a tutorial plus fire extinguishers).

  32. rboni,

    you and I agree on this. The commercialisation of university is od though if you look at the legal structure of universities in Australia: with only few exceptions, they are non-profit and exist via acts of law. You can deduct who now runs universities from where the excess profits have gone to….

    Tel_,

    I agree with much of your comment 29, see my comment 18: the pick-and-mix variety can indeed already be said to have done its damage in many places.
    We disagree about the reality of learning though (your comment 31). In an ideal situation you are right, in reality I think you are wrong. The level of self-motivation you ask for does not quite fit their prior education. I agree with you that greater self-sufficiency would be good though.

  33. conrad says:

    Well, it looks like you were right about the standards bit, except that you predicted standards would drop and that faculties would fight against it in a futile attempt to stop it, rather than start at the bottom.

    Read the last paragraph of this:
    . I think this must be the first time I’ve ever heard students complaining of courses being too easy, despite many lots of courses being very easy.

  34. Hi Conrad,

    thanks. Yes, the result is as I predicted, but the mechanism not quite what I had in mind. However, the article you kindly link to only relates to the new subjects put up. It doesnt talk much about the existing courses that are now open to side-streamers. I dont know what the source of the article is though and course quality is not something universities are eager to allow outsiders to scrutinise, so it’s tough for me to find out what has actually happened to the level of courses in Melbourne. I can only guess based on what I hear from colleagues there, and that would be hearsay. I did hear though that the VC in Melbourne said in a general email that all the performace criteria of the model were met. I am cynically inclined to then believe the outcome must have been really bad.

    It is clear though that some faculties have been more successful at resisting the impact of the Melbourne model than others. Commerce, probably the most profitable group in Melbourne, seems to have done quite well in keeping the model away, partially by having minimum math requirements of any outsiders doing their courses. Long may they hold out!

  35. conrad says:

    “and course quality is not something universities are eager to allow outsiders to scrutinise”

    Nor insiders either. Where I work, they are completely defensive and secretive about everything to do with this, so all you end up with is numbers for your subjects and overall means, with things like SDs calculated incorrectly. When I questioned whether anybody had actually bothered to see if the factors still came out (the CEQ questions are basically used for single subjects), obviously they didn’t actually know what factors are, and nor were they willing to give out the decontextualised data so other people could check it themselves (including well trained statisticians, who might be able to give them quite reasonable advice on how to fix it so that it actually might be useful). I only stumbled across the subject means via what must have been an accidental leak, and surprise surprise, the factors don’t come out. More embarrassing was that the overall mean difficulty was around 2.2 out of 5 on a likert scale if I remember correctly (with 1 being very easy and 5 being very hard), but I’ve never heard a single student complain about courses being too easy. That’s why I was surprised by the quote in the paper from the student union.

  36. Hi Conrad,

    I gather the news in Victoria has been full of stories about the disaster that the Melbourne model is turning into. We dont get to hear much of that here in Brisbane, but I gather the first-preferences for Melbourne are down; Monash and RMIT are picking up a lot of good students who otherwise would have gone to Melbourne, and that there are indeed internal efforts to undo a lot of the model. Uni Western Australia, which was thinking of adopting the model, had now apparently put this on hold because of the bad experience of Uni Melbourne. Perhaps I should ask Joshua Gans to tell me whether he wishes to reconsider his opinion above?

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