THE rebranding of Monash University Gippsland to a new entity expected to be known as either State University or Federation University, as the local campus prepared to transfer to the University of Ballarat, has commenced in ernest.
A formal announcement on Friday by both universities, following approval of a ‘merger’ proposal by their governing councils, confirmed what had already been widely anticipated and set the wheels in motion for a new regionally-focused university entity and the gradual exit of Monash University from most Gippsland campus activities.
Speaking with The Express just after he had advised students of the forthcoming change, Monash Gippsland University Gippland campus pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Robin Pollard extolled the benefits of “enhanced pathways and access to courses” he said an “expanded” university would bring with it.
The focus was now on seeking state and federal government approvals for the plan and further implementation planning, according to university leaders.
Professor Pollard said he expected, and hoped, entry scores to at least some courses would be lowered to help boost local enrolments but rejected suggestions the new entity would operate like a “glorified TAFE”, saying “this region already has a very good TAFE and there would be no strategic advantage to either universities for (that to happen), rather the reverse”.
In response to widely held concerns international student numbers at Gippsland would further diminish with the loss of Monash’s brand, Professor Pollard said he did not expect “a major reduction”, claiming Ballarat University “already has twice the amount of international students than we have in Gippsland”.
He conceded, however, “there may be a period where we need to rebuild pathways with foreign institutions, particularly in China”.
While he expected most international students in Gippsland would still come from China, Professor Pollard said there was “no reason we can’t develop other relationships with India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia… the University of Ballarat has partnerships in Malaysia, Vietnam and China and we can review those and build them up”.
While recruitment efforts for 2014 enrolments had been impeded by prevailing uncertainty at the campus this year – and the absence of a name for the new university – Professor Pollard said it was understood “we need to develop a values proposition to explain to students the benefits of them coming here, what their experiences (will be) and what their outcomes will be in terms of professional development”.
A target to maintain existing enrolment numbers next year had been set “and we expect this will grow over time,” Professor Pollard said, though future business plans allowed for “variability”.
Consultation will continue until the end of June over the university’s new name, with one of the two proposals expected to be adopted by Ballarat University’s Council in July. Despite the name change, in the immediate future “we expect most courses (next year) will be the same as this year… though it would be nice to introduce new ones…” Professor Pollard said.
A “wise” implementation strategy would see the “best of both” university’s courses eventually on offer, he added.
Professor Pollard anticipated 2014 would see about 75 per cent of Gippsland students “still being Monash students, going on to their second, third or fourth years..,” still bound by Monash academic policies, but with services delivered by the new university “on behalf of Monash.”
Monash had also agreed to “cover the majority of any operating losses next year” and transitionary costs in the new university’s initial years, he said.
Professor Pollard said it was implicit in the “requirements of the transfer of business” that current Monash staff be offered positions with the new university with existing benefits maintained.
“For the staff we expect there will be new opportunities, but in the first instance they will continue teaching what they do currently,” he said.
Asked about Monash University Gippsland Student Union’s call for an independent audit of Gippsland assets to be “gifted” to Ballarat University, to ensure local assets were not stripped in the transfer, Professor Pollard said the current ‘due diligence’ process addressed those concerns and “if an audit was required by the Victorian Government we would be extremely comfortable with that”.
In response to claims levelled at Monash that the short community consultation period offered little detail and a “merger” was a “done-deal” regardless, Professor Pollard insisted it had allowed for “meaningful dialogue” and altered the eventual proposition and business plans.
MUGSU has maintained a business model should have been presented to the community allowing the plan’s economic viability to be tested.
Suggestions that talk of a “merger” was inaccurate and Monash Gippsland was instead being “taken over” by Ballarat University were also rejected by Professor Pollard.
“A ‘take-over’ implies domination – that is not the way Ballarat considers this or the way we have experienced it,” he said.