Ipswich airbrushed

October 6, 2000

I read the article on the University of Queensland's new hi-tech Ipswich campus ("Campus plugged into heart of city life", THES, September 29) with growing incredulity.

Ageing movie stars often have wrinkles airbrushed out of publicity photos: I am afraid the report did a similar job. This is consistent with the observation that uncritical fawning over new technology in higher education is sadly the norm.

I was a senior lecturer in communication and management at UQ from July 1999 to July 2000 and barely recognised my experiences.

I agree that the academic staff are enthusiastic about their work; students find much of their experience positive, and technology is being integrated into learning in often exciting ways (though perhaps less innovative than the university's PR machine is prepared to acknowledge).

However, students told me what they most appreciated was the low student:staff ratios briefly alluded to in your report. This affords extra opportunities for good old-fashioned face-to-face communication - no small matter.

There is insufficient evidence to conclude that high-tech equals high levels of student satisfaction or achievement. The staff:student ratios have been made possible by temporary extra funding. This has a political motive: urban regeneration. It is hard to see how such conditions could be recreated elsewhere, given the parlous financial climate in Australia. Ipswich is an inappropriate model for international comparisons.

Technology has not reduced staffing levels nor workloads and Ipswich's survival as a top-class university environment is by no means taken for granted by those who work there. In introducing new technology, the sensible management of human resources and decision-making is crucial. These issues have been grievously neglected at Ipswich, leading to problems of morale, infrastructure and finance.

Dennis Tourish Reader in management University of Aberdeen

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