Amid much fanfare, the University of Melbourne this year introduced the “Melbourne Model”, effectively reducing the range of undergraduate degrees which students could complete.

Under the Melbourne Model, courses like law, medicine, dentistry, architecture, teaching and nursing could only be undertaken by postgraduate students. While ostensibly created to “build on cross-disciplinary research” and allow “a greater coherence in course design”, many believe the Model was introduced as a Trojan Horse to increase the number of full-fee paying students.

The move by Melbourne University to only offer subjects like law and medicine on a postgraduate basis was remarkably well timed. Only months after the Melbourne Model was introduced, the Rudd Government announced that “from 2009, full fee paying undergraduate places will be phased out in public universities for domestic students.” Meanwhile, the Government will provide “funding of $249 million will be provided for up to 11,000 new Commonwealth supported places by 2011 to replace full fee paying places. This will ensure students gain access to higher education on merit and not on their ability to pay.”

What that means is that Monash University, which currently provides courses like law and medicine on an “undergraduate basis” will be starved of funding, while Melbourne University, which operates those courses on a postgraduate basis, can continue to accept domestic full-fee paying students to its heart’s content. (Conspiracy theorists would point to the close link between the father of the Melbourne Model, Glyn Davis, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Removing funding for domestic full-fee payers provides a considerable advantage to the unpopular Melbourne Model).

The Melbourne Model received a deal of criticism, with many school graduates opting for rival Monash University courses to avoid having to complete an initial undergraduate degree. For the first time, Monash University “leap-frogged Melbourne to become the most popular Victorian institution for undergraduate applications”, reported The Age.

But it appears that popularity is less important than money, with Monash seeming to quietly adopt its own Melbourne Model by stealth. Recently, Monash University announced that it will be relocating its law school from the main Clayton Campus to its smaller Caulfield Campus, which is about 20 minutes away by car.

By relocating the law faculty to Caulfield, Monash will make it practically difficult, in fact almost impossible, for students to complete double degrees such as Engineering/Law, Commerce/Law or Science/Law — in effect, it will probably end up compelling students to first undertake a Science or Commerce degree and then move across to a different campus to complete a graduate law degree.

(While Monash University Dean of Law Arie Freiberg told Crikey that the faculty will work to avoid disruption through timetabling, ultimately, the vast majority of undergraduates will be faced with a near impossible scheduling task).

In explaining the shift, Freiberg notes that “the Clayton Building is no longer able to provide for the needs of a modern law school.”

As for why the current law faculty couldn’t be rebuilt on the larger Clayton campus, Freiberg says that “the high cost and limited benefit … would not enable us to provide sufficient teaching space within the building.” That seems a little perplexing, given the land size of the Clayton campus is around 50 times that of the Caulfield campus.

Admittedly, Freiberg isn’t blame, having no choice but to defend the decision. Crikey understands the law faculty was effectively forced to relocate by the University after being faced with remaining in sub-standard facilities or moving to a brand new $85 million complex. Why did Monash University compel the law school to switch? Possibly to recover the millions annually it will lose when the Government stops universities from having domestic undergraduate full-fee payers.

The Melbourne Model is vastly unpopular with students, but thanks to Kevin and his mate Glyn, it sadly looks like the maligned Melbourne Model may be the only one which is financially viable for our leading universities.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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