Ambitious growth plans in place

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Professor Greg Craven, 16 May 2011: Australian Catholic University (ACU) has been making headlines from Tamworth to Tasmania recently, as the University which has experienced the biggest increase of undergraduate students in the country – growing by 36 per cent between 2009 and this year.

This has positioned ACU very well for when caps on enrolment are lifted next year - and universities begin to receive funding for all the students they have enrolled, as opposed to the current system in which the number of places is allocated by government.

In some regards ACU has been better placed to expand than other universities, given that we are largely focused on health and education – and only now are expanding into Law, and growing our Faculty of Business.Our push is both fundamentally strategic and philosophical. The University currently has more than 20,000 students and is growing according to a comprehensive Enrollment Plan which will see approximately 25,000 students enrolled by 2017. ACU's growth plans reflect the University's support of the Commonwealth's participation and access agenda, implemented in response to the 2008 (Bradley) Review of Higher Education – which is fundamentally about promoting social justice and enhanced productivity as the basis for a participatory society. In that sense it is a very Catholic agenda.

A particular area of growth will be students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Targeted pathways programs such as ACU Smart and accessACU have been developed to engage low SES and disadvantaged students in higher education. Such programs provide additional support to these students, and are in addition to ACU's extensive range of academic and personal support services offered to all students.The University has six campuses around Australia, each with its own character, student body and course offerings. Part of the University's growth strategy has been devised in order to realise economies of scale across these campuses, located in three States and a Territory.

It is not only student numbers which are being targeted. ACU is undergoing a huge year of growth also in staff numbers, research output, campus facilities and course offerings.To manage the significant growth in student numbers, the University has committed to an extensive building program of more than $100 million, which commenced implementation in 2008.

Projects in progress include $18 million worth of improvements at the Brisbane Campus to accommodate new physiotherapy and exercise science courses, and the new eight-storey National Centre for Health and Wellbeing in Melbourne.In Sydney, a major planning exercise is almost complete, enabling a major increase in student numbers to be accommodated by 2016.

Corresponding growth in staff numbers will ensure that ACU continues to have a more favourable student to academic staff ratio compared to the sector. In addition to increases in staff numbers, the University is investing heavily in staff training, development and support to ensure high levels of learning and teaching quality.The University's traditional operations lie in the areas of health and education. While health offerings are set to expand with the introduction of speech therapy, occupational health and public health, the introduction of a Faculty of Law in 2013 will signify an entire new suite of programs.

New international development and global studies courses will also create overseas work and study opportunities for students, and benefit from the vast network of Catholic aid agencies around the world.The single area of the University which is likely to witness the biggest growth over the next few years is research. In late 2009, the University appointed its first stand-alone Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), and completely reconstituted Research Services. Since 2009 the research budget has more than doubled, and will continue to rise.

ACU is a university on the move, and I'm extremely proud to be leading such a superb team of staff and students in this pivotal time for higher education in Australia.

Professor Greg Craven is Vice-Chancellor at Australian Catholic University