Critically engaged universities

A message from the Associate Vice-Chancellor (Queensland) Professor Jim Nyland.

The idea of university engagement for the public good has been prominent in the discourses surrounding higher education in recent years. There are problems however, firstly with the concept of engagement here. The learning and teaching that many universities offer is not sufficiently engaged with the critical issues facing our society. Some of these issues are to do with belonging, community, identity, nationhood and culture whilst others include poverty, exclusion, migration, war, terrorism, global climate change and environmental degradation. These issues raise questions which test our humanity and the appropriateness of our universities and their curricula.

This semester I have had the great pleasure of teaching ACU’s Core Curriculum to a cross-disciplinary first year class on the McAuley at Banyo Campus.

This distinctive learning program has been designed specifically to address the issues raised above (and many more) offering a critical pedagogy as well as a critical curriculum to our students, and providing them with a point of clarity about what they could and should engage with - including the notion of ‘community’ itself.  One question that arises is how far our growing University campus community actually shares a common sense of identity and culture with each other?  Below are a few interesting trends which are currently shaping this growth.

Of the 6700+ students that now make up the McAuley at Banyo Campus, 70% of them reside in the Faculty of Health Sciences.  13% of our students are international, with Nepalese students making up more than twice the number of any other country (Chinese and American students come a distant second and third respectively).  11.56% of our students are identified as being from a low socio-economic status; 2.72% Indigenous and 6.9% with a reportable disability.

The importance for our students of getting a job at the end of their degree cannot be underestimated.  In this, they are extremely successful and their average starting wage is $65k - $10k higher than their counterparts in Melbourne or Sydney.

Of the nearly 500 full time equivalent staff on campus, approximately half are academic and half are professional.

We have one major research Institute headquartered in Brisbane – the Institute for Learning Sciences & Teacher Education, based at our Cathedral precinct off-campus facility in Brisbane CBD.

Congratulations to Professor Kathy Mills, based at this facility, following her recent award of the highly prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship – a $1m project which aims to advance new learning and pedagogical models of sensory orchestration for the enhanced multimodal and digital literacy learning of primary students.

My thanks to the entire ACU Queensland community that is increasingly impressing the sector by providing truly relevant and critical university education and research programs.

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