Austrade CEO Stephanie Fahey returned last night to the university where she started her professional career with a speech that touched on our multicultural heritage, our brave new world of teaching and the importance of Higher Education for Australia’s economy.
As head of the Federal Government's trade, investment and education promotion agency, Dr Fahey is arguably one of the most important public servants in the nation, looking after the engine-room of the Australian economy.
Dr Fahey recounted the mix of students she had in the classes that she taught at Victoria University, with a spread of locals and migrants from Vietnam, Macedonia, Greece, Italy and the former Yugoslavia, later joined by Somalians and Eritreans.
With Australia’s rapid population growth, in particular in Melbourne’s west, the ethnic mix at VU is even greater, adding to the importance of the role that VU fulfils for Australia.
“Many of my students spoke English as a second language, and the overwhelming majority were first-in-the-family to university, as I was myself,” Dr Fahey recounted.
“They and their families sacrificed much for them to be able to take their seat at VU. The staff then and now can see the palpable difference they make to the lives of their students.
“That’s incredibly motivating,” she added. “And a motivated team, given the freedom to explore new ideas and approaches, is well positioned to innovate.”
In that spirit, and wanting to improve the pass-rates, marks and university experience, Victoria University did, indeed, innovate this year by teaching subjects one at a time, rather than juggling four at once.
Now, spending much of her time in Sydney and Canberra, Dr Fahey can always rely on The Australian to see what her former university is up to. Citing the newspaper’s Higher Education Editor, Tim Dodd, she said that students were highly engaged under the new First Year Model.
"Strong student retention rates, combined with high satisfaction rates, demonstrate students’ love of the Victoria University’s First Year Model experience,” she quoted from Dodd.
Dr Fahey proudly proclaimed that:
“VU is the first Australian higher education institution to trial this kind of unbundled structure"
For student Akeisha Sandhu, the First Year Model approach is a learning revolution,” she said of the First Year Osteopathy student and elite soccer player.
She writes of no longer being herded into lecture theatres to be talked at to the rhythm of endless PowerPoint slides; of the positive impact of greater interaction with teachers, and of the buzz of instant feedback and rapid mastery of curriculum blocks.
Her enthusiasm for studying under the new model – inspired by Sweden – is evident.”
Indeed, Dr Fahey is so impressed with Victoria University’s teaching model that part of her closing remarks were that:
“The higher education sector must transform itself to create more practical and applied curricula to provide relevant, intensive immersion courses along the lines of VU’s First Year Model.”