When the Melbourne Model came to prominence, the claim of critics was that the University of Melbourne had forced change. A change that was incompatible with the collegial environment that shared research and learning is meant to foster. The University was to become more “managerial, professional, constrained”. Whilst the finer points of the Melbourne Model would be all too familiar to the readers of this article, a central component was “responsible divisional management”. It held “that financial decisions should be made, and responsibility borne, by those nearest to the people and services involved”.
The revolutionary Model, which changed the educational structures of a famous 150-year-old institution, was meant to instil an “independent vision of excellence”, where the professional schools exerted an organisational break from the central Chancellery of the University. This would ensure financial micromanagement and world-class service rendered to students who would be paying far more than their non-Model peers.
Now, not even ten years into the Model it seems that the aloof and well-paid Vice-Chancellor of the University, Glyn Davis, has had a change of heart. The Business Improvement Program goes to the heart of his new educational ethos. It is a slick plan, which centralises student support services and is the antithesis of the “independent vision of excellence” that the erudite Mr Davis espoused of his new professional schools. Funnily enough, Mr Davis made these overtures when trying to placate the middle class that the Melbourne Model was not just a plan that he concocted to empty the pockets of students.
So from a starting position, the Business Improvement Program contradicts the ethos of the Melbourne Model. By the time you finish reading it, it seems like an overt betrayal to a student cohort that naively bought into his message.
Despite the fact that University of Melbourne was on the nose with many of the peers in my high school graduating class, many kept the faith. New tertiary students bought in, and were lucky enough to get through the undergraduate component and get a place at the independently excellent Melbourne Law School. We have even got our own jumpers.
Yet, law school does not pause for the pitfalls of existence. And in an environment that is increasingly managerial, professional and constrained, a “degree factory” that pumps students into the offices of Collins Street, this does not bode well.
You see, Collins Street likes those with sustained academic excellence. However, if you are depressed or a family member dies, or you cannot go home and study, then your control over your academic circumstances can slip.
This is where the Melbourne Law School support services, and specifically Kate Van Hooft, are so fantastic.
The bureaucratic 13MELB system is a joke and that is not only in the opinion of your correspondent. Student Experience Surveys in 2012 and 2013 affirm that the student body does not feel this centrally controlled service is up to standard.
Ms Van Hooft and her team fill that gap in support. She is contactable. She is empathetic. She is calm. And when it feels like the world is caving in on itself, it’s comforting to know that someone somewhere in the great white castle of Pelham Street has your best interest at heart.
The infuriating element of the Business Improvement Program is that the Melbourne Model helped spawn this culture of success at all costs. Not only has Chancellery forced upon us the financial burden, but now it seems the non-financial burden of being in a high stress environment will be met by a body of humans that are exhausted and is refusing to believe the rhetoric of savings. Even from the point of view of a finance novice, the deregulation of university fees and the spruiking of cost cutting seems a little more than mere coincidence.
If the University of Melbourne is genuine about the welfare of its students, and genuine about the mental and physical health needs of students who were shunted into an exorbitant fee structure, then the Business Improvement Program will go into the wastebasket.
Unfortunately, the University simply does not care. And thanks to the all-wise millionaire from main campus, the factory will continue to run to the detriment of its customers.
Steven Finocchiaro is a third year JD student.