PVC Promotes Students’ Soft Skills

Friday 3 June, 2011

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Students) and Registrar at UNSW Professor Joan Cooper told Warrane residents that her mission when she arrived at UNSW four years ago was to “enhance the student experience and improve student engagement”.

“When I was appointed I was told that UNSW was very much a treadmill university,” she said during her visit on June 1. “Students came to lectures and left."

“My challenge was to try to make the student experience that much more enjoyable and provide a more a holistic education and broaden the student experience.”

Before she came to UNSW, Professor Cooper was already one of Australia’s most experienced university administrators, having worked at Flinders University, the University of Wollongong, the Australian National University and the University of Newcastle. Her appointments included being appointed as the first female professor of IT in Australia.

She said one of her aims at UNSW was to improve the 'soft skills' of students in the areas of communication, leadership and group work - “the sort of things you don’t get in the classroom”.

“I found there were lots of opportunities on campus,” she said. “I even heard about some of the things you do at Warrane College. I started to look for ways of giving you (students) more opportunities for the things you asked for.”

Among the innovations she had helped to introduce were workshops, training programs and internships.

UNSW had moved to increase opportunities for “volunteering” for NGOs outside the university, and find ways in which domestic and international students could interact more outside the classroom.

One of the major advances had been the introduction of a “supplementary transcript”, recording co-curricular activities that the university considers as contributing to a student’s education and developing skills. This now covered over 500 different types of activities, including sports, representation on academic boards, prizes and student exchanges.

“When we started, we were the only university in Australia that did this,” Professor Cooper said. “Two other universities said that we should stop doing it because it was giving our students an unfair advantage in the workplace. We said that was our aim.”

“And employers told us that that was what they were looking for - well-rounded, non-academic skills as well.”

UNSW is presently looking at having the supplementary transcript included with the Australian Higher Education Graduation Statement.

A name had already been suggested by students - the UNSW Advantage Program. It was one way of improving the employability and career prospects of students, as well as giving them a more well-rounded education.

UNSW is also looking at developing a Diploma of Professional Practice which could be undertaken concurrently with a degree. It would have four attributes - seeking to promote scholarship, professionalism, a global perspective and leadership qualities.

The diploma would be very flexible. It would probably be conducted over the summer break and would include workshops, online services such as interactive programs, and several weeks of work experience with firms like KPMG, Oz Aid Abroad, and so on.

It would aim to even include the concept of “service learning” from things like tutoring disadvantaged students. It would not involve exams, but could include internships.

“I am hoping to get it up and running by next year,” Professor Cooper said.

Professor Cooper's visit was also the occasion of the signing of five new scholarship protocols for future Warrane residents. The scholarships will be awarded for cultural, academic, sporting, and community service achievement and to students from rural areas. Details will be coming soon to the Scholarships page on this website.

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