Queen’s administration travels down under

Principal Daniel Woolf looks to create strong international ties with other universities

(Left to right) David Skegg (University of Otago), Berndt Engler (University of Tübinigen), Carol Holt (Dartmouth College), Anders Hallberg (Uppsala University), Chris Higgins (Durham University), Alan Robson (University of Western Autralia) and Principal Daniel Woolf.
(Left to right) David Skegg (University of Otago), Berndt Engler (University of Tübinigen), Carol Holt (Dartmouth College), Anders Hallberg (Uppsala University), Chris Higgins (Durham University), Alan Robson (University of Western Autralia) and Principal Daniel Woolf.

Principal Daniel Woolf recently traveled down under to discuss global issues facing universities, including Queen’s.

While in Australia, he said he tried kangaroo meat for the first time and engaged in the Oil Thigh.

The trip took place from Feb. 5 to 19. Woolf said it was the second annual board meeting of the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) that brought him and Vice-Provost (International) John Dixon to Australia. The series of meetings began on Feb. 9 and took place in Perth, where Woolf also met with groups of Queen’s alumni.

The MNU is an international network of universities that focuses on strong links between undergraduate teaching and research. They aim to engage in activities such as enhanced student exchange, joint postgraduate programs, social responsibility projects, research collaboration, conferences and workshops, visiting fellowships, faculty and staff exchange and sharing of cultural and sporting activities.

More was on the agenda than just meetings with members of the network, Woolf said.

“You don’t just fly to Australia for a two-day meeting … we visited with many other university partners,” he said. “I saw a number of experimental classrooms, and meeting with alumni is always a highlight.” The set-up of many Australian universities can also be considered unconventional.

A trip to Melbourne University revealed experimental classrooms, which contrasted with how Queen’s classrooms are currently set up. According to Woolf, many of Melbourne University classrooms have tables for four or five students, with a space the instructor in the centre of the room rather than the front. In addition, instead of blackboards or whiteboards, many classrooms have brightly coloured glass boards.

During the Network’s board meeting, Woolf was acclaimed as chair of the Network.

“For the next year and a half I’ll be chair,” Woolf said, adding that his duties as chair will include leading and facilitating discussions and Network initiatives.

Queen’s and six other universities from around the world, including Dartmouth College and The University of Western Australia, founded the Network last year.

“Being a part of this network allows us to leverage connections with six other like-minded institutions. All of them are socially aware and aspire to make the world a better place,” he said.

How universities are funded was also discussed during the MNU meetings.

According to Woolf, both Canada and Germany have a strong provincial or state involvement in the funding of post-secondary education. The U.S. remains unique in having a private and public, or state system, for post secondary education. Post secondary institutions in the United Kingdom are moving from government support supplemented by tuition to a system of income-contingent loans, with tuition capped at $9,000 annually.

Woolf said understanding how university funding in other countries works is important.

“It’s always helpful to know, just as there are different practices in different provinces, what is going on in other jurisdictions, as government occasionally asks for advice and it’s good to be in a position to be able to tell them what happens elsewhere,” Woolf told the Journal via email.

Unlike Australia, Canada receives a lot of funding from private and philanthropic sources, he said.

Woolf said he observed differences in how Australia and Canada approach internationalization.

According to Woolf, there are more international students at nearly every university he visited than there are at Queen’s, more students participating in exchanges and more internationalized curricula. 

During the trip a visit to Curtin University demonstrated how internationalized Australian schools are—it has 47,000 students in total, with one third being international students.

Currently, Queen’s has 1,424 international students in degree programs and on exchange, representing 5.2 per cent of undergraduate full-time students, from 69 countries and 17.7 per cent of graduate full-time students, from 73 countries.

Woolf said that the frequency of the Network’s board meetings, which are business oriented, will be decreasing over time.

“They will be on a less than annual basis. The next meeting won’t be for about 16 to 17 months,” he said, adding that the next meeting will be hosted at Dartmouth College.

While there will not be a board meeting in the near future, another workshop is coming up, Woolf said.

The main criteria for a research workshop under the Matariki ‘brand’ are that they be oriented to pressing social problems, be interdisciplinary, draw on strengths at most or a majority of the member universities and generate some concrete outcomes in publications and research applications, Woolf said.

While Queen’s held the first research workshop from Nov. 5-7 2010, the next research workshop will likely be hosted in Tubingen, Germany and will focus on bioethics and policy issues. The workshop will involve undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty.

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