Focused on the Tropics

Focused on the Tropics

University Priorities – A University for the tropics worldwide; Development, More Sustainably

Consistent with the Strategic Intent, specific and detailed work was undertaken through the Curriculum Refresh project to encourage stronger alignment with the four themes that underpin our learning and teaching and research. Over the life of that project, the level of engagement with the Strategic Intent and the four themes has been broad ranging, and often discipline specific. This was anticipated and foreshadowed as early as the original funding application for the Curriculum Refresh project, which noted that some disciplines readily align with the focus on the tropics while for others the task is more difficult. The extent of course and subject alignment with the tropics has varied from the embedding of examples and case studies to provide a tropics context at one end to the shaping of the entire curriculum around the tropics at the other. Accordingly it has become clear that there is a real need to provide academic staff with support and guidance in conceptualising the tropics from the perspective of their respective disciplines.

In terms of research, the strategic commitment to a tropical agenda has generally served us well over a long period of time by providing a distinctive institutional narrative. Accordingly, the four themes have, more recently, provided a useful basis on which to increasingly focus the research effort, though there has been an appetite for greater specificity within the four themes. This has been achieved to some extent through the establishment of research institutes and centres.

Through the James Cook University Model we will make more deliberate and explicit connections to issues and innovations relevant to the tropics through our course offerings, research and engagement. The Taskforce proposes the adoption of a ‘grand challenges’ narrative as an elaboration of the conceptual framework for our core business. In doing so, we will not lose sight of our role in providing the professional workforce for northern Australia and Singapore and will look again to ensure our curriculum, research and engagement align with the Strategic Intent, to deliver long-term financial sustainability for the institution.

Recommendation 1

A grand challenges framework should be developed, as a means to elaborate on the four themes embedded in the University’s Strategic Intent.

The development of courses that respond to the grand challenges could become flagship or signature programs for which James Cook University becomes renowned. The Knowledge Partnership set out a strategic and structured approach to the development of programs like this in their report for the Curriculum Refresh project and the Taskforce endorses this approach.

There are also opportunities for the further development of specialist postgraduate coursework or short courses that address grand challenges facing the tropics. The unique locations of our campuses and field stations were identified through the consultation process as providing opportunities for master classes and other programs. The development of a small number of niche programs at postgraduate level was supported in market research conducted for the Curriculum Refresh Project.

Recommendation 2

That the further development of signature programs, responding to grand challenges facing the tropics, be considered.

The current Resource Allocation Model has been reported to be an impediment to the delivery of interdisciplinary offerings. Course ownership is vested in faculties and EFTSL funding is allocated to schools/disciplines responsible for delivery of subjects. This model does not properly recognise the fixed cost (sometimes significant) burden associated with the design and delivery of a new course. Accordingly, if this avenue for curriculum innovation is to be pursued, attention will need to be given to how costs and revenues are allocated, such that budgetary issues do not impose an unnecessary constraint.

Recommendation 3

That the Resource Allocation Model be reviewed in terms of its suitability to facilitate the development and delivery of interdisciplinary learning programs.

It is acknowledged that we play a crucial role in preparing the professional workforce for northern Queensland and training graduates to work in rural and under-served communities. The adoption of a global challenges framework provides an opportunity to review discipline offerings, considering alignment to the tropical agenda, student demand, research capacity and future directions. There is also an opportunity to consider areas where existing capacity could be grown and new areas pursued.

By taking the decision to build capacity in some areas, there will be others where capacity will be reduced and which we will cease to support. The following questions are central to the discussion:

  • What do we do now that is excellent and must be maintained/extended?

  • What do we do now that is less strong, but which we are committed to developing?

  • What new fields might we develop, which would be likely to work at the intersection of the four strategic themes or fall into the category of a grand challenge?

  • What courses and subjects will we withdraw from?

The ensuing decisions in regard to curriculum offerings must have consideration also for campus offerings. The Taskforce considers there is advantage in further concentration of our learning and teaching programs at the three tropical campuses.

Recommendation 4

That subject and course offerings be assessed in regard to their alignment with the Strategic Intent, student demand, community interests, and link to quality research with a view that:

  1. Courses and programs that are not adequately aligned will be disestablished;

  2. The policy in respect of low enrolment subjects will be strengthened and enforced;

  3. Areas where existing learning opportunities might be expanded will be considered; and

  4. Course offerings in terms of their spread across campuses will be considered.