Schwartz drives radical reforms

Former Brunel chief brings 'education for life' to Australia's Macquarie University. John Gill reports

May 15, 2008

A leading Australian university is to overhaul its curriculum in a drive to educate students "for life, not just for a job".

The shift of emphasis at Macquarie University is being overseen by vice-chancellor Steve Schwartz, who said he wanted to give students broader experience as well as a chance to develop social awareness.

To that end, all undergraduates will be required to study both science and arts modules as well as undertaking voluntary work as part of their degree programmes.

In a first for the country, Macquarie, in northern Sydney, will create a "mini peace corps", encouraging its students to do volunteer work overseas by developing programmes across the South Pacific and South-East Asia.

Some form of community work will be compulsory for all Macquarie students by 2010. Professor Schwartz is believed to have considered further sweeping changes.

The Australian newspaper reported that he stopped short of making learning a foreign language compulsory only when it was judged to be "unfeasible" at this stage.

He told the newspaper that the new curriculum was based on the three themes of place, planet and participation, rather than focused on the sole aim of getting students a job.

"Universities are more than just narrow vocational schools; they have the opportunity to change the world, to shape society and shape democracy," Professor Schwartz said. "It's about education for life, not just for a job."

The change of emphasis is in contrast to the UK's current Government-driven focus on skills and employer engagement in higher education.

Until 2006 Professor Schwartz was vice-chancellor of Brunel University in the UK, where he oversaw a controversial drive to improve the university's research activities, which involved making redundant 50 academics who were not considered to be "research active".

He also led a national review in 2004 into UK university access, in which he recommended that admissions should take place after students had received their A-level results.

Professor Schwartz, an American who has spent most of his career in Australia, said his aim at Macquarie was to produce graduates who can "make a difference".

"We're trying to infuse the institution with more than just a utilitarian vocational mission (and create) one that also makes a difference to a more democratic and inclusive society," he said.

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