Changes ahead in Australian tertiary education?
May 27, 2007 3:39 AM   Subscribe

One of the two big universities in Melbourne, Australia have radically changed their philosophy on education to be more in line with that of the US and Europe. Where should I go?

For quite some time, Melbourne University has been talking of changing their system of undergraduate studies and their relation to postgraduate studies to be more like the system in the US. Next year is the first year that such changes apply.

Now that more information regarding the "Melbourne Model" is out, I'd like to query the hive-mind that is AskMefi and get some opinions. I'm currently a high school student in my final year and if all goes to plan (!) I'll be entering university in 2008. I have my heart set on Engineering (Electrical), Science (Physics) and languages (French, et cetera, but that's probably irrelevant).

Now, as I see it, due to the changes that are taking place at Melbourne, these are the options I am tossing up between:

* BSc + ME at Melbourne (five years)
* BSc + BE at Monash (five years)

My question is such: which qualifications would be most highly regarded and provide the best education for a future in Engineering? At this point in time, I'd absolutely love to do R&D, which may factor into your suggestions. Also, I know that I'll be travelling the world down the track, so international recognition is important too.

Thanks for all your advice and I hope that the replies in this thread may prove to be useful for kids in a similar position to my own.

EDIT: I realise that a few people will jump in and go for the BSc + ME without thinking. I would like to know, in such a case, how three years of an undergraduate science degree and two years of a post-graduate Engineering degree could be comparable to a typical four-year Engineering education.
posted by PuGZ to Education (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd definitely go for the Melbourne Model (MM) over the Standard Model (SM) if you have the marks to get in there.

You can actually imitate the MM at Monash and many people do - just do your BSc, get good marks, do an ME. The big plus of doing things this way is that you're flexible - you can decide to get a job for a couple of years after you get your BSc, or you can decide you prefer programming to Electrical Engineering, or whatever. You can change streams within the standard BSc+BE combo, but it's messier, and you always end up having wasted units.

I suspect the MM will be cheaper for you than the SM. Graduate funding comes out of a different pool to undergrad funding, so a 5-year undergrad degree will come very close to using up your HECS allowance, or whatever it's called nowadays. By separating the components you get to draw on two sets of funds, not one.

I know you think this is obvious, but an ME is much better than a BE. It's not just that employers have more respect for the title: it's a different environment. People in a Master's program are self-selected - they work harder because they know what they want to achieve. The units are usually different and the classes are smaller. You'll be studying with more mature people and with lecturers who actually have the time to talk to you.

You say you're interested in R&D? Masters level programs lead into PhD programs. Bachelor degree programs don't. If you want to do R&D you'll very likely find that you can do it in conjunction with a PhD program, or find that you need a PhD for the level you want to attain. So you can try really, really hard to persuade a committee that you ought to be allowed to jump straight into a PhD program so that you don't spend another two years qualifying by getting a Masters, or you can just do the ME as part of the standard course. I have no idea why people do five-year degrees if they have the opportunity to do 3+2. I guess it's clever marketing and the fact that students are risk averse - they want to know they've gotten into the program they want. The truth of the matter is that universities love graduate students because their reputation and funding (to some extent) depend on their graduate program.

The SM is based on the idea that universities want to lock students in for as many years as possible. Of course they want 5-year undergrad programs if they can - most students are unlikely to change campuses halfway through a degree. The 5-year program is safer for them, but it means that they accept students who get sick of the amount of time they're spending as a student, or who turn out to be unsuited to the field they've chosen.

The University of Melbourne's model is riskier, but very clever. They're going to end up with lots of graduate students and lots of extra funding, and an enormously better international reputation at the graduate level, where it counts. They're also giving themselves the chance to examine students' results at the Bachelor level before committing themselves to providing a place in the Masters program.

The good thing is that the benefits flow both ways. The spearate funding pools mean that students are better off. The major programs have been redesigned to accomodate this new paradigm and make things easier for the students going on to do a Masters. They're offering students the chance to get a Masters in a serious field within the same amount of time that they'd have only gotten a Bachelors. It really seems a no-brainer to me: do the MM if you can, otherwise do the Standard Model BSc followed by an ME.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:53 AM on May 27, 2007

I would like to know, in such a case, how three years of an undergraduate science degree and two years of a post-graduate Engineering degree could be comparable to a typical four-year Engineering education.

Oops, missed that bit. They're comparable because you spend a lot of time at uni learning how to learn. You really do pick things up much faster when you've acquired the research skills you're going to need by the end of a BE. A lot of the work you do in the year is really there to guide your study and work skills, not teach you Engineering per se. And it's not as if you wouldn't be doing any general science within the 4-year Engineering program, so you they're actually compacting something like two-and-a-half or three years of a four-year undergraduate Engineering course into a two-year graduate course.

Also, as I say above, the ME students are self-selected for success. They're a better calibre of student with access to better teachers and university facilities.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:01 AM on May 27, 2007

Doesn't Monash have a B Eng program? If so, wouldn't another option for you be:

B Eng + M Eng (6 years)

Anyway, I agree with a lot of what Joe says above BUT the only downside I can see of the Melbourne program is that you really are committing yourself to doing both the Bachelor and Master degree to get anything worthwhile... If you do 3 years and then decide you don't want to continue, you really haven't pursued the Engineering field at all and actually have a pretty generic B Sc degree, and how employable is that degree?

I'm of the opinion that you should do your study in discreet units, so that if you decide you have had enough, you can bail out and still have something worthwhile. While 5 years looks good now, what happens if you want to change paths? With that in mind, I wonder whether a B Eng followed by a Masters might be a better choice.

Oh, and I agree with Joe about double degrees. To me, someone doing a double-degree is just indecisive! Pick the discipline you want, get the Bachelors degree and then you can cover the other areas with a Masters later if you want. Somebody with more than one Bachelors degree just makes the employer think they couldn't decide or had a career change at some point.

Finally, I also agree that you need a postgraduate or honours degree to go into a PhD, which might be what you need to go into R&D. If you do the B Eng, then you could go into the Masters and, if you like it, upgrade the Masters into a PhD degree. Without a Masters (ie. two Bachelors), you would have real trouble getting into a PhD program.
posted by ranglin at 6:17 PM on May 27, 2007

I don't know much about how Monash does it, but Melbourne gives you very good options to integrate the languages into your science/eng path - the new undergrad degrees will require around a third of courses to be outside your major, and they also (currently? haven't checked if it will continue) offer a Diploma of Modern Languages, which is essentially a language major that can be added on to whatever degree you're doing.
posted by jacalata at 10:16 PM on May 27, 2007

Are you totally committed to being an engineer at 17 years old? That's certainty! You're more likely to be sure of what you want to do in three years.

Apply for Melbourne. Also, the campus and campus life are so much better at Melbourne than Monash.
posted by wilful at 11:01 PM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses! They more-or-less mirror my own thoughts on the matter, but I thought it would be wise to get a number of opinions from different sources to ensure that I hadn't overlooked anything.

The point about being indecisive is a valid one. While I very much doubt that I will change my mind, it's always good to have the option open.

Also, the information regarding the DML sounds very promising. It'd be absolutely wonderful to continue my LOTE education and have official recognition for it, to boot.

Thanks once again!
posted by PuGZ at 12:15 AM on May 28, 2007

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