A UNIVERSITY of Melbourne strategic 10-year plan could see law studied at graduate level only.
In a shift to a study model long followed in the US and gaining popularity in Europe, the plan is awaiting government approval.
However, according to a report in The Australian last week, federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson is also backing the move to generalist undergraduate degrees, with subjects like law studied in postgraduate years.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis outlined a draft of the proposal to the University of Melbourne’s Council last week. The plan would structure study around generalist undergraduate degrees followed by intensive professional graduate schools.
One proposal is that from next year, more graduate programs will be introduced with a goal of one-third of all enrolments at postgraduate level and some faculties standing alone as graduate schools.
A spokesperson for the university said, for example, law students now do a four-year undergraduate law degree at Melbourne University, but if the changes were brought in, “nobody would be doing the law course as an undergraduate”.
“You would be doing a Bachelor of Arts, or a Bachelor of Commerce, or Science, and at the end of that basic degree, you could then apply to go into the graduate program.”
It is hoped the strategy, dubbed Growing Esteem, will strengthen the university’s research credentials in order to compete better against universities outside Australia.
“In undergraduate education Australia outperforms most other nations, with overseas students a larger part of its mix,” the draft states. “At postgraduate levels, in which research prestige looms larger, Australia is behind the US, parts of Europe and emerging university leaders across Australia.”
Competition with overseas institutions is leading to a standardised structure, the report says, based around the American model of a four year arts or science degree followed by graduate school.
This approach is echoed in the Bologna Declaration, which the university says will become the European model for higher education from 2010. This includes a three-year undergraduate degree, with “advanced units” taught in a two-year masters or a three-year doctoral program.
The spokesperson said the new program should make it easier for students to have their qualifications recognised in other countries.
In 2006, a taskforce will help all faculties to plan the “graduate school approach”. Initially, a pilot program will introduce “prestigious new professional programs” with places guaranteed for “high-achieving” school leavers who meet “progressions standards” in an undergraduate degree.
The strategy said this could, for example, include a politics, philosophy and economics program leading to graduate law school.
The federal Government will have to allow the transfer of some HECS funded places from undergraduate to graduate, for the plan to go ahead. “The University will need to persuade government to lift the constraints that prevent the university from assuming more responsibility for its own income and expenditure,” Professor Davis said.
He said the university must also be freed from current restrictions so it can decide the right distribution of students between disciplines, between fee-paying and subsidised, and between postgraduate and undergraduate level.