A plea for smaller and more diverse universities has been made by University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Warren Bebbington.
Students are missing out on important contact with teaching staff in Australia’s larger institutions, and universities need to find ways of creating the small-group seminar of the Humboldt university model, Bebbington said in his inaugural lecture on 18 July.
“Fundamentally, we need to affirm the vital importance of small-group learning and close encounter with a teacher in high-quality university learning. By this I mean finding a place in our courses for the self-renewing, open-ended collaboration Humboldt described—the oral seminar or interactive group encounter where students take part in content design, peer assessment, and quality evaluation and where the teacher is a guide and partner rather than a lecturer,” he said.
He also called on governments to sanction a broader variety of university missions instead of the focus on intensive research.
“Australian universities need to be able to choose where they wish to place themselves on the continuum between teaching and research, between transmitting known knowledge and discovering the unknown, between short-term applied and long-term basic research,” he said.
Bebbington emphasised the importance of cultivating students’ character and deepening their specific expertise. He wanted to “recapture the excitement of discovery” for students. Early semesters should include a research component.
“There should be some chance even for the first year undergraduate to experience learning through independent inquiry and sharing their findings in a small group. Graduate research training also needs to be made more attractive, finding ways to improve its rewards and widening opportunities for RHD students to work alongside staff in our most exciting research frontiers,” he said.