A few weeks ago, my alma mater, University of Melbourne, launched its largest philanthropic campaign, aiming to raise $500 million for the university by 2017. In his welcome message during the official launch, campaign chairman Allan Myers was quoted as saying, “This Campaign will help build on that legacy and will ensure the university can stand tall with the greatest universities in the world, all of which have a common ambition to have a lasting and positive impact on society.”
Stand tall with the greatest universities in the world.
The sentence was somehow inspiring to me. Maybe it was because I have always been very proud of my alma mater, or perhaps it's because there are cynics who do not believe in the quality of an Australian education.
Without doubt, I believe that the quality of Australian higher education, especially the one offered by my alma mater, is cumulatively great. It gets better if you happen to study at one of the Group of Eight universities — a coalition of leading Australian universities and include University of Melbourne, Australian National University and University of Sydney.
Nevertheless, based on conversations with friends and acquaintances, there is a (mis)perception that North American and European universities are superior to their Australian, and Asian, counterparts. For instance, in a piece published in The Economist, the author wrote, “Australia’s universities, like its wine, are decent and dependable, but seldom excellent.”
Likewise, my peers often overlooked the quality of Australian universities and many chose to head to the United States or the United Kingdom for their further education, in pursuit of “better” education. More often than not, we are being misled by the dazzling kaleidoscope of the American and European dreams.
In fact, I have heard someone say, “Even an American degree is more prestigious than those of other countries, say Australian and Asian ones.”
If you are someone who thinks alike, take my word for it, it is not true.
I believe that attending the best universities in Australia, Singapore or China is better than attending “random” universities in the States. Rankings are popular and satisfactory barometers of the perceptions of an educational institution, but those lists are by no means completely exhaustive and accurate of the quality of education.
Reflecting on my three years at university, I am forever grateful for deciding to go to Australia and attending the University of Melbourne. It is famous for introducing the Melbourne Model in 2008, a curriculum change which aimed to align itself with leading universities in North America, Europe and Asia. Under the new curriculum, the number of undergraduate degrees is reduced to nine and an emphasis is put on its graduate degrees. Besides depth, the Melbourne Model emphasizes breadth, allowing students to choose a variety of elective subjects, including those from other faculties. However, the decision sparked controversy and earned the university a dismissive nickname amongst the skeptics: ‘Harvard by the Yarra’.
Regardless of what others think, I am still very proud of my alma mater because I have learned some of the most important lessons in my time there. I pursued a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Media and Communications, and the new Melbourne curriculum meant I had the opportunity to choose other subjects I was interested in, including a psychology module and a few business modules.
In addition to the exceptional academic life, the extracurricular activities enriched my overseas education experience. The university has plenty of student organizations and clubs, catering to different interests, hobbies and skill sets. Furthermore, there are plenty of activities organized at the university and in Melbourne. Among some of my favorite events are public seminars organized by the university. To me, university is much more than just attending lectures and tutorials.
Indeed, education and learning are two different processes. You can get education by simply attending classes, but learning spans beyond classes and exams. Learning is a lifelong process.
During my three years in Australia, I had been a committee member in a student organization, worked at an e-zine catering to international students, interned at a multinational public relations firm, attended intellectually stimulating seminars (including one by Martin Wolf, CBE of Financial Times) and participated in amazing cultural events — just to name a few. Looking back now, my three years there can be described in three words: inspiring, enriching and transformational.
Frankly, in today’s modern world, I believe it could be more beneficial to consider leading universities in the East to pursue one’s further education. There has been a great shift of power in recent times — Asia is the new powerhouse and according to a piece published in the Foreign Affairs journal, the growth rates of China, India, and other Asian states could overtake those of major Western countries in the coming decades. After all, the context of a university education, including the extracurricular learning experience and the network, matters as much as the content of the education.
For instance, four of Asia’s best business schools, China Europe International Business School, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Indian School of Business, and Nanyang Business School, formed a collaboration called “Top Asia B-Schools,” or TABS, to promote management education in the region.
“All these factors tip the scales in favor of Asia as the destination of first choice when it comes to management education,” a TABS brochure says.
I, for one, would extend it to the Asia-Pacific. The APAC is an exciting place to be in now, and maybe the APAC is where you should be for your higher education.
Steven Tannason is a commencing graduate student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School. He completed his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Media and Communications.
This article originally appeared in Indonesia Mengglobal, a site where Indonesian students and alumni from top world's universities share their study-abroad tips and experiences. The site aspires to make high-quality global education more accessible for Indonesian students.