15/10/2008 - 22:00

Unis consider study options

15/10/2008 - 22:00

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WITH universities facing growing pressure to specialise, driven by funding models and the looming federal government higher education review, Western Australia's four public universities are preparing to run the measuring tape over their course offerings.

WITH universities facing growing pressure to specialise, driven by funding models and the looming federal government higher education review, Western Australia's four public universities are preparing to run the measuring tape over their course offerings.

The University of Western Australia's proposal to consolidate about 70 undergraduate programs into six courses - covering science, arts, commerce, health and design, as well as a bachelor of philosophy - is the first of a series of reviews either under way or likely to take place at WA universities.

While UWA has developed these reforms independently, based on research over the past two years, its decision follows that of the University of Melbourne, which introduced an extensive restructure of its undergraduate curriculum this year.

Called the Melbourne model, other universities nationally are expected to adopt the reforms.

However, it's an approach that Curtin University of Technology plans to steer away from in its own restructure.

Curtin is midway through a review of its entire curriculum, aimed at ensuring courses are viable, of high quality and relevant to industry.

Curtin director of teaching and learning, Beverley Oliver, said one goal was to allow students with generalist degrees, such as commerce or science, to mix majors across disciplines by 2010.

Professor Oliver said some rationalisation would take place as part of the review, although decisions were yet to be made over which courses would be restructured or scrapped.

"We want to raise our teaching and learning profile, and to make sure every course is sustainable," she said.

"Curtin courses are generally very applied, but we want to make sure they are relevant to industry."

The federal government's higher education review, chaired by Denise Bradley, has also provided an impetus to universities considering a restructure, with the review committee due to release its draft report in December.

Edith Cowan University will use the review to evaluate its courses, although the university's deputy vice-chancellor (academic), Arshad Omari, said it was premature to speculate on what a restructure might involve.

"We're waiting to see what comes out [of the review] and looking at what we do to see if there will be opportunities for greater efficiencies in our course structure," he said.

"Universities Australia-wide tend to be falling into two groups - the Melbourne-style model and a more generalist group. That more generalist approach would suit a university like ECU better."

Murdoch University is similarly waiting for the Bradley review to deliver its findings, which it said would give the university greater clarification around its programs by 2010.

It also said it was waiting to evaluate the new Melbourne model before making substantial changes to course content.

UWA senior academic reviewer Ian Reid said the proposed reforms were yet to go before the university's senate, although its academic board was due to make a resolution in November.

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