Higher Education in the 21st Century – Diversity of Missions: Abstract by Elizabeth Harman

 

Learning (in) Contexts: Re-imaging Campuses and Partnerships at a New School of Thought

Professor Elizabeth Harman, Victoria University, Australia

Victoria University is re-imaging and re-positioning itself as an international provider with strong community values and a reputation for responding to the changing nature of the workforce and the workplace, locally and globally. The Making VU a New School of Thought project will, over the next 3-5 years, reconfigure VU’s 750 courses and related research endeavours and will require that every award embodies at least 25% learning in the workplace or community (LiWC). These reflect two of five Making VU commitments.

The fifth Making VU commitment is about VU’s role in the Melbourne’s west, an area of relative disadvantage and VU’s main catchment and community heartland. In partnership with other groups, VU has embarked on three initiatives to make a difference to the lives of people in the region, targetting school outcomes; health outcomes; and sport and recreation facilities. Plans are underway for VU capital investments with partners that are located in, or serve, the community. All three offer VU new vehicles for LiWC.

The alignment of VU’s teaching and research activities beyond class and campus – and in the direction of the workplace and the community - have catalysed our thinking about campuses and learning infrastructure. There is a paradigm shift underway that is remarkable for the speed with which it is occurring and for the nature of the sea-change that is involved. VU has many opportunities to take learning ‘off-campus’ and ‘into context’ and to bring work and community onto campuses. There are challenges for staff, students, employers and community partners. Equally apparent is the responsibility of VU’s governance body (Council) in terms of managing risks. However, the rewards for VU are worth it.

VU’s eleven campuses were inherited or purchased since its creation in 1991. It also offers courses at offshore delivery sites through infrastructure owned by provider-partnerships in nine countries. These have been the foundation for a largely traditional campus, classroom-based teaching approach. The recent priority has been reducing the number of campuses and better using infrastructure. This remains a focus, but the perspective is now more sophisticated.

LiWC has worked well for years in parts of VU, including vocational training at work-sites and pioneering co-operative learning programs. Making VU is proving a ‘tipping point’, bringing such examples to the foreground. A sketch of four of these is provided in this paper. They range from extensions to well-tried models, to more innovative plans.

By rethinking its learning spaces, VU and its partners are engaging in a paradigm shift in the understanding of the relationship between universities, sites of learning and the workplaces and communities in which graduates live and work before, during and after they leave the campus classroom.