As university campuses are built brick by brick, the University of Tasmania is building its community connections to create solid foundations.
UTAS vice-chancellor Rufus Black, who took on the post from former vice-chancellor Peter Rathjen in March, has taken on the ambitious Northern Transformation project.
The project, which aims to deliver two new bricks-and-mortar campuses in Launceston and Burnie, will also revolutionise the university’s curriculum and its involvement in its communities.
“We should be a university for Tasmania, not just the University of Tasmania,” Professor Black said.
The Northern Transformation project is not just about two new campus facilities, but about ensuring UTAS plays a key role in facilitating economic growth in Tasmania and becoming inextricably linked with its communities.
First concept images for the new Inveresk campuses may be ready as early as the next couple of months.
Professor Black said the consortium of architects, led by John Wardle Architects, had been working hard since they were announced as the principal consultants in July.
“The architects have made a great start. They are really busy at work. They are at the first stage of looking at the master plan, to make sure things are where we are wanting them,” Professor Black said.
“They are also interested in architecture that works with the site.”
The consortium of architects include: John Wardle Architects, along with Tasmanian architects 1+2 Architecture, Room11 and Philp Lighton.
A development application is expected to be finalised and lodged with the City of Launceston council by the end of the year.
Professor Black said the Northern Transformation project was about the whole North, not just about Launceston or Burnie.
“This is about our commitment to the whole North and the North-West. Then we can think about what we have to do fits in with the whole region,” he said.
TAILOR MADE COURSES
Launceston will not lose any university courses to the South under the University of Tasmania’s Northern Transformation project.
In fact, there will be more courses offered in the region, with more specific courses related to growth industry areas, according to Professor Black.
“We don’t have any areas losing courses, it’s really about expanding the offerings that are available and adding new offerings that will only be available in the North or North-West,” he said.
The changes would see “more of what we do available in more places”, which was key to the university’s new strategy, Professor Black said.
More of the university’s basic offerings would be available in more parts of the state, with unique courses tailored to the strength of each region.
In Launceston, those tailored courses would focus around agriculture, food production, business and engineering.
However, Professor Black said identifying those unique markets would be determined through community and industry engagement.
“We will be putting more of our capabilities that are key to the different regions into our campuses,” he said.
Professor Black said the university was moving away from the “hub-and-spoke model” that had defined it in previous years, with Hobart placed as the hub and Launceston and the Cradle Coast campuses the spokes.
Instead, it would be looking to establish curriculum on a network model, to allow for more flexible learning options in hope to attract more students from across the community.
“The North and North-West needs more students,” Professor Black said.
A challenge facing the North, is that there is a large number of students not filtering to tertiary education, the university or otherwise, after they leave grade 10.
Professor Black said this was an anomaly experienced in Tasmania and not on the mainland, where the large majority of students go to university.
“We need to bring more people in, more importantly, more Tasmanians in,” he said.
“We have really low completion rates and that needs to change for Tasmania’s future.”
Professor Black said Tasmania had a high proportion of students who leave grade 10 without an ATAR.
To address this, UTAS has been working with primary and high school students, through programs like Junior University and Students in Schools to help extend its reach to more regional areas.
“The likelihood of someone going to university increases if their parents have gone to university,” Professor Black said.
“We want to be able to go in and show them there are a lot of people out there like them who go to university, show them it’s accessible to them.”
In June, UTAS released a comprehensive report and action plan into sexual abuse and harassment on campus.
The report revealed a lack of any detailed policy direction on how to deal and response to instances of sexual abuse and harassment on campus.
Professor Black said subsequent action taken by the university was progressing well.
“We are well on track to implementing all of the recommendations by the end of the year, “ he said.
The report was commissioned in response to the Human Rights Commission report released last year.
More than 40 recommendations were made in the UTAS-commissioned sexual abuse report.
Professor Black said an external oversight committee and an expert advisory committee had both met to ensure the recommendations were being followed and put in place.