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Thursday, 19 July 2012
Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to university size according to new University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Warren Bebbington.
Speaking at his Inaugural Lecture in Elder Hall, Professor Bebbington says that students are already missing out on key contact with teaching staff in Australia's larger institutions and that universities will need to find ways to recreate the small-group seminar of the Humboldt university model.
"Humboldt established a model that became the blueprint for the modern university. Sadly, it has been lost in the massive expansion of higher education of the past 20 years," says Professor Bebbington. He calls on governments to sanction a broader variety of missions from universities, instead of the "single, research-intensive mould".
"In our major universities today, with student:staff ratios of 20:1 and lectures sometimes of 1,000, many students never benefit from meaningful discussion and interaction with academic staff," he says.
Professor Bebbington says universities need to recognise the vital importance of direct contact with lecturers and tutors. "By this I mean finding a place in our courses for the oral seminar or interactive group encounter where the teacher is a guide and partner, rather than a lecturer preaching from the front of the room," he says.
He also wants all undergraduate courses to include a research component. "There should be an opportunity, even for the first-year students to experience learning through independent discovery and sharing their findings in a small group," says Professor Bebbington.
He says students need to learn the skills of acquiring knowledge by analysing, and discerning credibility in online information sources. "Such skills are essential to successful research and, as it happens, to quality graduate employment," he says.
He believes universities also need to develop e-learning resources that better support discovery and collaboration. "This will mean more staff professional development, to equip academics with enhanced small-group teaching strategies and new technology skills," he says.
Unified research and teaching was pioneered by 19th-century reformer Wilhelm von Humboldt (1769-1859).
Professor Bebbington says that the University of Adelaide is best placed among Australia's 39 universities to recreate the fundamental research-teaching nexus. "Adelaide's commitment to an innovative teaching experience is already evident," he says.
The lecture can be viewed on line here.