First-year students at Victoria University will bypass the regular four-unit semester and instead opt for a sequential process where they complete one subject at a time in a four-week block. The ‘block model’ is built on the premise that some students prefer focussing solely on completing one facet of the course before moving onto the next rather than juggling multiple subjects simultaneously.
This approach is a first for an Australian university but has existed in some North American institutions since the 1970s, and is practiced by most Swedish universities. It is a bold move by Victoria University no doubt, but arguably a necessary one to compete with local rivals such as University of Melbourne, Monash, RMIT, Deakin, Swinburne and La Trobe.
The initiative has garnered plenty of support for its capacity to build a sense of belonging and learning gain. Acting Dean Dr John Weldon claims that rather than focusing on content, the model will encourage collaboration and creativity to cater to the 21st century student, but it is not without its flaws.
Students would not experience the usual mix of classes and pupils, meaning they would be interacting with the same group of people in a structure that more closely resembles primary school than a traditional university timetable. This could be problematic from a social perspective, as a huge part of uni is getting to know a variety of new people.
The result of the program could well be a turning point for VU. The institution would benefit from a point of difference to some of its more high-profile competitors – Melbourne trades on its reputation as one of, if not Australia’s best university, Monash is world renowned for pharmaceutical science, and RMIT attracts elite design students. This would give VU something unique and something that you can’t get at the other urban universities.
At this stage, second-year students at Victoria University will revert back to the traditional study, although Dr Weldon says this will be monitored depending on the success of the initiative. It remains to be seen whether this whether other Australian universities will follow suit.