Residents given an overview of UNSW history and development

Wednesday 29 May, 2013

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students), Professor Wai-Fong Chua AM, gave Warrane residents an overview of the history and ongoing development of UNSW when she spoke at the College on 15 May 2013.

Professor Chua, who manages the whole spectrum of the undergraduate and the postgraduate coursework experience at the university, pointed out that the university’s roots went back to the late 19th century when it was a technical college.

After it became a university in 1949, the first faculties were Engineering, Science and Architecture and in 1952 it became one of the first universities in Australia to admit overseas students under the Colombo Plan.

She said despite the many changes at the university, the emphasis at UNSW has always been on developing skilled graduates for practical engagement with our communities, industry and the professions. “The early faculties of Engineering and Science remain large on campus.” “Faculties like Built Environment, Law and Medicine continue to provide training for their respective professions”.

“We are not a very large comprehensive university…” she said. “We don’t have Dentistry, Agriculture, Vet Science, and we don’t teach Sanskrit for example. Our Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is a distinctive faculty that encourages students to critically reflect and engage with contemporary social issues. It reflects our roots as a university that has prepared graduates to make a strong contribution in the sciences (both technological and social), industry and the professions.

UNSW had also continued its emphasis on recruiting overseas students who usually make up between 20 and 35 per cent of students in each faculty and come from over 130 different countries.

The university was very interested in innovating – “ in doing things differently”, she said. It sought the following graduate attributes: scholars who have been well-trained in their discipline; professionals with a sense of ethical practice in their domains; global citizens who are quite comfortable wherever they are, whether in Australia or overseas; and leaders with a sense of service.

A major part of the university’s program was its compulsory humanities or “general education” program which requires all students to complete courses outside of their main faculty programs.

“General education dates back to the origins of the university,” Professor Chua said. “Interestingly, early Colombo students said that the humanities was one of the best things they did because they felt it enabled them to understand people better”.

“At the end of the day, managing a business or working for a team was very much about understanding how folks worked or didn’t work together.”

Another emphasis at UNSW was on engaging with industry. One of the largest programs on campus is the Co-op scholarship program. It was a unique scheme which required students to complete a compulsory number of work placements, each two/three months in duration, over a period of 12 to 18 months, helping them to understand the workplace and their profession.

The university had celebrated the 25th anniversary of the program recently and in future was planning to offer students placements overseas, especially in the Asia Pacific region, but also in Europe.

“We would like students to have experience all over the globe,” Professor Chua said. “We want to have cosmopolitan graduates through different forms of cultural and educational exchange.”

The university was also prioritising the creation of spaces on campus that enable interaction between students. Part of this was the creation of physical spaces to better foster team work. In future, new buildings would have a variety of “student-focussed spaces” on the ground floor for students to meet informally and to work together in groups.

The library too was changing and now included bookable rooms for students to do group work together.

“We want students to enjoy teamwork,” she said. “We will never have the perfect team so we have to learn to work with the team we have. How do you work with teams? How do you motivate people with different time-lines, different interests, different schedules?

“The other important element is to provide a vibrant campus experience in order to enable you to grow as individuals and as a community.”

Through a leadership program started in 2012 students were encouraged to learn to serve others: “Volunteering to me is not just about you benefiting from understanding what workplaces are like, what teams are like, but that you learn from serving, because it is from service that we ourselves grow in so many different ways.

“Often leadership is essentially focussed on the self, but for me leadership is about bringing out the best in others because when we do that we achieve so much more as a team.

“I was keen on a leadership program which is focussed on a particular notion of leadership – leadership which is first and foremost centred on others.”

Other innovations at UNSW included the university’s language exchange program (which allowed students to practice speaking with native speakers also studying on campus), fostering active and diverse clubs and societies, and the university’s co-curricula programs.

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