Australia's University for the Tropics Project

LTSE Major Projects Past Projects and Resources Australia's University for the Tropics Project

Australia's University for the Tropics Project

About the Project

James Cook University (JCU), like many other Australian universities, undertook a refreshing of its curriculum. The project is titled: ‘Australia’s University for the Tropics’ but also referred to as the Curriculum Refresh Project.

The aim was to, (a) incorporate a distinctive focus on sustainability and the tropics; (b) make courses more flexible in delivery and focused on student needs and demands; and (c) design courses that offer opportunities to help prepare students for the workplace.

The project was guided by the University’s revised Strategic Intent – ‘a brighter future for life in the tropics worldwide’ through ‘graduates and discoveries that make a difference’ – and the four pillars:
1) Tropical Ecosystems, Conservation and Climate Change;
2) Industries and Economies in the Tropics;
3) Peoples and Societies in the Tropics; and
4) Tropical Health, Medicine and Biosecurity.

The key themes for the Curriculum Refresh Project were drawn from the University Plan. These themes help make JCU’s curriculum distinctive, and include reviewed assessment practices and progression criteria, constructive alignment and good practice principles. A summary of the key themes for the Curriculum Refresh Project and a comprehensive list of resources for each theme have been compiled.

Outcomes from the Curriculum Refresh Project include:
• Clear links to research
• Reviewed assessment practices and progression criteria
• Opportunities for Work Integrated Learning
• An embedded awareness of sustainability issues
• External reference groups for the course
• Access pathways for equity groups
• Curriculum supporting the best possible first year experience
• Maximised flexibility in our offerings
• Identified and integrated innovative technologies and infrastructure that support student learning in delivery
• People and Culture: course supports passion for learning and fosters intellectual curiosity
• Reconciliation Statement: curriculum that integrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, perspectives and experience across the curriculum through consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff
• Development of graduate attributes in line with JCU’s framework and demonstration through the curriculum
• Internationalisation and Engagement: internationalisation of the curriculum with special emphasis on our place as Australia’s national university for the tropics
• Internationalisation and Engagement: increased student and staff mobility, especially to locations in the tropics

The initiative will strengthen our position of the University as unique in Australia and a world leader in the tropics. The project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations through its Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund and by James Cook University.

Project Team

‘Australia’s University for the Tropics’ project, more commonly known as the Curriculum Refresh Project formally ended in December 2012, and the key themes of the Curriculum Refresh project are now embedded in many courses throughout JCU.

The role of the Project Team has been to provide the strategic leadership, facilitation, influence and direction for the project. More recently this work has involved supporting staff to conceptualise what the tropics means in different disciplinary contexts.

Project Team members were:
Lisa Westcott - Curriculum Refresh Project Leader
Leon Vecchio - WIL@JCU Project Officer
Gill Cowden - Curriculum Refresh Project Officer

A comprehensive review of the University's Graduate Attributes policy, framework and implementation plans were the key focal point for the final phase of the project in 2013.

Curriculum Scholars and Reference Groups

To assist us in achieving the outcomes of our project we appointed a Curriculum Scholar in each Faculty. The Scholars played a pivotal role in coordinating the leadership of the project from the Faculty perspective. At the same time, the Scholars ensured the University wide impact of the project and were committed to working towards a changed culture in relation to teaching and learning for the University. The Scholars worked closely with the Curriculum Refresh Project Officer, Curriculum Refresh Project Teams, Associate Deans (Learning and Teaching) and other staff within Schools to ensure that the project was successful.

To assist us in achieving the outcomes of our project we also established a Reference Group of national and international experts to provide advice on the following specific areas.

Critical Friend: Dr Dale Spender
Curriculum: Professor Paul Ramsden and Professor Richard James
Indigenous Perspectives: Professor Henrietta Marrie and Professor Martin Nakata
Organisational Culture: Professor David Watson
Regionality: Professor Sally Brown
Tropical Expertise: Mr Taholo Kami
Visiting Fellow(s): Martha Johnson and Dr Fred Lockwood
Work Integrated Learning: Professor Stephen Billett

View biographies for reference group experts here.

School Refresh Projects

A number of school based projects were undertaken throughout the Curriculum Refresh Project. An overview of these projects can be found here.

Market Research for Curriculum Refresh Project

In 2010, James Cook University’s Marketing and Engagement directorate received funding from the Curriculum Refresh Project to undertake market research in four areas.

1) Tropics theme

The objectives of this project were to examine, (a) attitudes towards, and understanding of the tropics themes; (b) international and domestic student attitudes and preferences for tropics-related course and subject offerings at undergraduate and postgraduate level; and (c) potential demand in the domestic and international market for tropics-related course and subject offerings at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Outcomes (each requires login): Tropics Project Report , Additional report Dec 2011 and survey data

2) Flexible delivery

The objectives for this project were to examine options for flexible delivery offerings including the preferred format of delivery, methods of presentation, locations, and timing of delivery, including timing of the academic year.

Outcomes (requires login): Flexibility Project Report (includes survey data)

3) Work Integrated Learning and Professional Development programs

The objectives for this project were to examine, (a) opportunities for Work Integrated Learning (WIL) with potential graduate employers in government and non-government sectors in Townsville and Cairns; and (b) potential demand for delivery of professional development programs to government and non-government organisations.

Outcomes (requires login): WIL and PD Project Report (includes survey data)

4) Pathway programs

The objectives of this project were to examine, (a) preferences for university entrance schemes (Pathways Programs), including suitable courses, preferred format of delivery, methods of presentation, locations and timing of delivery (including low SES and Indigenous); and (b) the potential demand for Pathways Programs and the characteristics and attitudes of potential adopters (including low SES and Indigenous).

Outcomes (requires login): Pathways Project Report

The Curriculum Refresh Project also evaluated responses to the curriculum refresh themes in the 2010 and 2011 Course Performance Reports. Click on the relevant theme for further details (Login Required).
Graduate Attributes
Indigenous Perspectives
Links to Research
Reference Group


A comprehensive list of resources compiled throughout this project is available here.