In a radical break with its 150-year-old traditions, the University of Melbourne is to be the first in Australia to adopt the model set out in the Bologna Declaration.
Instead of the focus on preparing undergraduates for the professions, all undergraduates will first have to complete a broad three-year qualification before undertaking postgraduate professional training or careers in research. Melbourne's governing council has accepted the recommendations of its vice-chancellor, Glyn Davis, and committed A$85 million (£35 million) to support the transition to a high-quality, postgraduate-oriented institution.
Within two years, architecture, law, nursing and some education courses at Melbourne will be offered as graduate programmes only. Eventually, all professional degrees will be included.
Professor Davis told The Times Higher that the "Melbourne model" would combine the best elements of Australian and international approaches to undergraduate liberal education and graduate professional training.
"By most measures that count, Melbourne remains the most successful university in the country in terms of its research output, its international ranking and as the place of choice for the top students," he said. "But many of our programmes were designed in the 19th century and, although the Australian model has served us well for a long time, we will soon be seen as the odd one out."
Professor Davis said that the Bologna Declaration would affect universities across Europe, while in Asia Singapore was moving to a four-year undergraduate degree system and Hong Kong had begun to do the same.
In the seven years from 2008, the university plans to reduce its undergraduate enrolments and to cut overall student numbers from 50,000 to 35,000. By 2015, 20 per cent of postgraduate students will be in the university's new graduate schools, with 10 to 15 per cent engaged in research. Up to 10 per cent of undergraduates would be domestic fee-paying students and 20 per cent international fee-payers. Most local students would still occupy federally subsidised places, and many undergraduates would enjoy free tuition or living allowances through scholarships.
To develop greater "cultural literacy" among undergraduates, students will be required to take six out of 24 subjects from a range outside their "core" course.
Julie Bishop, the Federal Education Minister, agreed to the university's request to shift 800 federally subsidised undergraduate places to the new graduate schools.
The University of Western Australia appeared to be preparing to follow Melbourne's lead. It has initiated a year-long review of its operations before possibly adopting a similar system.
Professor Davis appointed Peter McPhee, deputy vice-chancellor, to chair a curriculum commission responsible for an overhaul of all courses. Professor McPhee said Melbourne offered more than 900 degrees, 80 at undergraduate level. By 2009, the latter number will be cut to 20 and reduced to six broad courses over the following six years.