13 January 2011

In praise of residential universities

The 1947 New England University College Handbook contains a photograph of Booloominbah looking across the Southern Lawn from the rose garden.

Beneath it there is a quote from The Economist:

A place in any long-term policy of university expansion should be definitely reserved for the foundation of a few residential universities. A stately home on the outskirts of a small country town would be an ideal location.

On becoming autonomous the University of New England decided as a matter of policy to be fully residential, with benefits to which the overwhelming majority of its alumni would attest. As Australian university funding became more and more centralised and “one size fits all” – centralised systems need everything to be similar in order to work out their funding priorities – it became impossible to sustain the fully residential model and when the temporary buildings that formed my beloved Wright College reached the end of their useful life they were simply bulldozed.

Maintenance funding for the rest of the colleges has never been a priority for the funding authorities and the university faces a backlog in an area that is one of its great competitive strengths.

We talk incessantly about the virtues of innovation and of pluralism but when it comes down to is it is hard to do anything new or different in this country.

See also What a privilege it was ...

1 comment:

Jim Belshaw said...

I have written on this one so often, Paul, that I get depressed. Part of the problem goes back to the very early days when the colleges were set up without sufficient autonomy.

When I have raised this one, the official response has always been that they are legally part of the university. By implication, they cannot be independent.

Denise is chair of International House at Sydney and I go to IH and SU functions. IH is in just the same position as our colleges, but the difference in governance is phenomenal. SU's colleges are an asset, ours are just part of a residential system.

Maybe it's time to rejoin the fight.

On a related matter, Express editor Christian Knight wondered if you might like to write a weekly column. They don't pay, and I have found it a load, but also something of considerable value. I am free to write what I like.