Earlier today I received an email from the University of Melbourne asking me to fill out a survey that probed my reasoning for declining a post-graduate offer.
The survey posed the following question:
Why did you provide a rating of [rating] for your likelihood to recommend the University of Melbourne?
This question of course related to whether I would recommend applying to post-graduate study at UniMelb, but it got me thinking as to whether or not I would recommend undergraduate study here (I graduated from UniMelb earlier this year). As such, I’ve come up with some thoughts/ a bit of rant that may be of interest to people considering studying at Melbourne, or just to fellow students who may identify with these frustrations. Though I can only speak with any certainty about UoM, I imagine many of these criticisms apply to all Australian universities.
Before getting into it, it should be noted there are many benefits to studying at UoM, there are some exceptional faculty members, a (mostly) beautiful campus — certainly the best of all universities in Victoria, it has a good reputation within Australia and globally, etc.
Indeed, I would not discourage prospective students from studying here for an undergraduate degree, rather, the point of this article is just to highlight some negative aspects of undergraduate education here that should be factored into a potential students decision.
The most glaringly obvious issue, and the issue that I will talk about is the failure of the Melbourne Model. The Melbourne Model occupies an awkward middle ground between the liberal arts style educational models of the US, and the focussed, specialized bachelor’s degrees offered in the UK.
The Melbourne model does not fully commit to a liberal-arts style education. Undergraduates are admitted into programs differentiated by the subject areas in which they permit study (i.e. a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Commerce, etc.). If you, for example, study a Bachelor of Arts then you may only major in (and for the most party take subjects in) the disciplines subsumed under arts (history, philosophy, sociology, etc.). Students must take between 4–6 ‘breadth’ subjects in areas outside of their degree class, which is perhaps slightly mitigating, however the restrictions are nevertheless harmful.
One problem here is that it prevents major combinations of obvious utility. For example, one could not double major in the obviously fruitful combination of political science and statistics without signing up to an expensive and time consuming concurrent diploma. (Note: as far as I am aware, this is not possible at any Australian university — although many offer ‘double degrees’ as a clumsy solution).
In fact, even when there is no obvious synergy in a majors combination (i.e. chemistry and literature) if the university is going to deny the availability of extended, in-depth study of one field (which the Melbourne Model does), why, rather arbitrarily limit students to studying within broad subject-based classes of academic disciplines?
Contrastingly, UK universities eschew liberal arts style education in favor of providing undergraduates with the opportunity to take a deep dive into their chosen field, thus leaving no room for foray’s into other disciplines (as touched on above). However, despite the lack of freedom to experiment broadly, UniMelb doesn’t provide undergraduates with a deep, focussed education either.
The fact that it is possible to be granted a degree with a major in philosophy from UoM without having ever been to a lecture on formal logic is insane (particularly given that UoM has such excellent logic classes). Likewise, the possibility of majoring in economics without touching a mathematics class, simply being taught neutered, surface level versions of the necessary mathematical concepts, is equally ridiculous.
To be fair, it is not (for the most part) that the difficulty or academic rigor of undergraduate classes at UoM pales in comparison to other, globally renowned universities. I spent a year studying at a prestigious US university on exchange and found that performing well required much less work than at UoM and that the assessment at UoM required a deeper level of understanding.
Also, in fairness to UoM, it is, based on what I’ve heard of the experiences of friends studying at other universities, easily one of the most academically rigorous universities within Australia (and perhaps it is unfair to frame this rant as a criticism of UniMelb when it is more aptly a criticism of Australian higher education in general).
Regardless however, the issue here is best illustrated through an example:
Consider bright UoM graduate who has just finished a B.Comm with an economics major, having scored incredible marks in every single one of her classes. She is passionate about economics and wishes to go onto study for a PhD overseas. The fact is that she won’t even be eligible to apply for the vast majority of economics PhD programs anywhere other than Australia, which, at an absolute minimum, require applicants to have taken calculus 1–3, linear algebra, and more often than not, many more advanced mathematics subjects.
The shallow approach of the Melbourne Model to undergraduate education means that she does not have the opportunity to fulfill the educational requirements necessary to pursue her goals.
Her 6 breadth subjects do not provide sufficient space for the many classes in calculus, linear algebra, analysis, differential equations, and probability theory that she must take if she wishes to be competitive for top graduate programs overseas.
Indeed, if she were an arts student (economics is one of two majors that can be taken in more than one degree area, the other being psychology) she would not be allowed to take any mathematics classes as, for some bizarre reason, if you’re an economics major studying a BA you are not permitted to take an breadth subjects are are 100% confined to ‘arts’ subjects.
She could sign up to a concurrent diploma in mathematics, but this is expensive, time consuming, and may very well be more mathematics than she needs, and, fundamentally, she shouldn’t have to — she should be able to fine tailor her degree to meet her requirements and aspirations.
This example might be hard to relate to for the vast majority of us (myself included) who aren’t half of a mathematics major away from being admitted to a PhD program Harvard’s Department of Economics. However, the underlying point is that, for no good reason (given the lack of depth à la UK undergrad education), the Melbourne Model prohibits us from crafting bespoke degrees from a rich variety of academic disciplines and, in doing this, precludes us from many of the outcomes we may want from our hard earned degrees.
Ultimately, it seems to me that the Melbourne Model is just an excuse for the university to be lax with the depth of educational offerings under the pretense of a liberal arts type education which, in practice, it utterly fails to deliver by restricting students to a narrow, but shallow field of study. Thus providing the worst of both worlds.
I have more thoughts on the masters programs offered but this rant has gone on longer than I imagined and I don’t wish to completely ruin my chances of anyone reading this, so I might save them for another article.