Excellence in triplicate

January 1, 1990

Male student working with calipers

A ‘triple helix’ of mutually supportive work lies at the heart of Melbourne’s strategy, says Glyn Davis

The University of Melbourne aims to be among the finest universities in the world. Our performance in the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings acknowledges and celebrates the pursuit of excellence by our researchers and teachers. At Melbourne, as in every tertiary institution, the staff and students are the university.

Melbourne is ranked number one in Australia by most of the significant international academic league tables, including the THE World University Rankings. This reflects a curriculum aligned with the finest European institutions, with graduate programmes and schools committed to world-class education. We are fortunate, too, that our campus is based in Australia’s largest biomedical precinct and is closely aligned with a number of significant medical research institutes.

Last year, the Economist Intelligence Unit yet again named Melbourne the world’s “most liveable city”. This ranking reflects its strong performance in amenities, lifestyle and access to great institutions, including higher education bodies. The city and its namesake university have a proud history of academic and research achievement, ranging from the “bionic ear” cochlear implant and HIV vaccine development to the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources initiative, which is harnessing the power of cloud computing. And Melbourne has helped to nurture some of the world’s most distinguished researchers, including recipients of the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology.

But it is never enough. A public-spirited university must make a distinctive and continuing contribution to society. At Melbourne, this is framed around three core activities: research; learning and teaching; and engagement. Each strand of this triple helix is linked, so work in one reinforces the others.

This mission in turn is supported and enabled by the university’s people, infrastructure, policies, planning, administration and resources.

Research is central to the university mission, linking each institution with the great centres of global scholarship.

Domestically, Melbourne’s research expenditure is second only to that of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and it has the largest cohort of research students in Australia.

In 2012, the university refocused its research priorities to better address the major challenges facing the world.

Our strategy identifies three “Grand Challenges” on which we will focus until 2025: understanding our place and purpose; fostering health and wellbeing; and supporting sustainability and resilience.

Melbourne is bringing together researchers from around the world to address fundamental problems and to work towards finding answers to key questions.

The research-teaching relationship is also vital. Because many of our world-leading researchers are also passionate and committed teachers, we give our students access to scholars at the forefront of the national and international research effort who share their cutting-edge insights in the lab, lecture and seminar room.

As the second core activity, learning and teaching is the university’s enduring purpose. Our innovative curriculum is informed by research and prepares students for the increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Since 2008, we have taught the Melbourne curriculum, which is closely based on the Bologna Declaration. It caters for undergraduates and postgraduates, some of whom are sure of their chosen path, and others who have not yet determined their future vocation, plus those who begin on one path then discover another.

Professions are taught at the postgraduate level and involve the largest array of graduate schools and students found at any Australian university.

Although the purpose of teaching remains constant, the means change frequently and quickly. Accordingly, Melbourne has been an early mover in online education and is Australia’s largest provider of massive open online courses, offered through the Coursera platform.

In 2013, our first seven Moocs attracted more than 300,000 enrolments in about six months. This year a fresh set of courses will be offered. In addition, new and wholly online graduate programmes will be developed, aimed at increasing flexibility for postgraduates who may be studying around work or family commitments.

Melbourne’s third core activity – engagement – involves interaction between the institution and its communities. It affirms the university’s strong connection with industry, government and the people through cultural stewardship, policy leadership, public debate, commercialisation, partnership and exchange.

The outlook is distinctly international. Our global partnerships support mutually beneficial collaborations in research, engagement, teaching and learning. Melbourne maintains more than 200 bilateral agreements with leading higher education institutions and is a member of the Universitas 21 network and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities.

Our international engagement allows us to offer exceptional opportunities for students to experience challenging and cross-cultural learning environments in Melbourne and overseas.

For example, the institution has the largest inbound and outbound student exchange programme in Australia, involving more than 200 partners from 37 countries.

Melbourne’s success has been 160 years in the making, and the challenge to continue improving is ever present. However, meeting that challenge is one way of ensuring – as the title of our Growing Esteem strategy suggests – that the university continues to serve the needs of future generations.

Glyn Davis is vice-chancellor, the University of Melbourne.

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