Macquarie University students will be forced to "do good" and "change the world" -- but what has that got to do with academic ability or achievement? And what if I think that I "do good" simply by entering one of the professions? The definition of "doing good" is unclear but seems to be very unsophisticated for a university. I am glad that I was able to concentrate on my studies when I was there. And what about all the students who have to work their way through university? How are they going to fit in all this crap?
All students at a leading university will have to undertake volunteer work and study subjects from the arts and sciences under an overhaul of its curriculum designed to provide a broader education and more socially aware graduates. In a first for an Australian university, Macquarie University Vice Chancellor Steven Schwartz today will announce a partnership with Australia Volunteers International that will create a mini peace corps, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to do volunteer work overseas.
Called the Global Futures Program, it will develop programs with local communities throughout Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Some form of community work will be compulsory for all undergraduate students at Macquarie under the new curriculum, to start in 2010. In addition, the university will require all undergraduate students to study subjects from the humanities, social sciences and sciences so that arts students must take science subjects and science students must take arts subjects.
The university, in northern Sydney, had also considered making the learning of a foreign language compulsory but it was not feasible at this stage. Professor Schwartz told The Australian that the new curriculum was based on three themes of place, planet and participation, and was designed to provide students with a broader education than one geared solely to a vocation and getting a job. "Universities are more than just narrow vocational schools; they have the opportunity to change the world, to shape society and shape democracy [Is that what the taxpayer is paying for? And what if the student is content with the world as it is and does not WANT to change it -- preferring to concentrate on more personal things? Is there no place for such a person in a university? It would seem gross political bigotry to say so!]," he said. "It's about education for life not just for a job. We're trying to infuse the institution with more than just a utilitarian vocational mission as one that also makes difference to a more democratic and inclusive society."
Professor Schwartz said the new curriculum developed the university's commitment to social inclusion and equity, and fitted in with programs already in place at the university, such as MULTILIT, a remedial literacy program being used in Queensland's Cape York, and the Teach for Australia scheme. Macquarie University, in partnership with Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson's Cape York Institute, is developing the Teach for Australia program. It is based on similar schemes in the US and Britain to recruit the brightest graduates to teach for a short time in disadvantaged schools before they start their professional careers.
Macquarie's focus on a broader education follows the restructure at Melbourne University, called the Melbourne Model and based on US college degrees, which offers six broad undergraduate degrees followed by a graduate professional degree in specialist areas such as law or medicine.
Professor Schwartz said providing an education based purely on skills was inadequate. "I used to be a dean of medicine and I believe probably a lot of skills we taught students were obsolete before they graduated," he said. "Our students graduating this year will retire about 2050. We don't know what the world will look like in 2015, let alone 2050. "At Macquarie, we want to give students the right skills to get ahead in the community and we want to give them employable skills but we also want to make them open to equity issues, to social progress and social justice in terms of equal opportunity."
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