When I first enrolled at the University of Tasmania (UTas) in 2009, there was a vibrant campus culture; there was always posters up advertising events, societies had stalls set up almost daily, both the Ref and Lazenby’s were packed to the rafters.
I left university to work in the ministry for several years, and when I returned in 2013 the first thing I noticed was how dead the place was.
The following year, a visiting friend came to university with me, having also studied in 2009 before leaving to study and work in Queensland.
His reaction to seeing the campus after five years was to ask me where all the students were.
A couple of weeks ago the Gratton Institute, a Melbourne-based public policy think tank, released findings on a study regarding retention rates on Australian universities.
Most shockingly, UTas topped the list with 42 per cent of students withdrawing from their courses, double the national average of 21 per cent.
These dreadful statistics show that there is a huge problem for university administrators.
I offer my own suggestion to help solve the problem: Create a campus culture.
Currently there is very little incentive to hang around on campus after class; the main walkway and Ref steps are ghost-towns after one in the afternoon, the Uni Bar has only recently started to regain the numbers it had when my friends and I would have a post-tutorial drink there every Friday.
Is it any wonder that more students are enrolling in online courses and skipping going to campus at all? According to the Gratton Institute’s Andrew Norton, this year’s enrolment numbers for online subjects sits at 12,000, which is up from 3,000 in 2010.
In addition to challenging UTas administrators, it also presents a challenge to our incoming Tasmanian University Union (TUU) student representatives for 2017.
Ask yourself a question: What has the TUU done this year to encourage campus culture?
I struggle to think of a single thing that has been done at all, save for a few dismal barbecues and breakfasts, which even then have attracted miniscule crowds.
Even the ever popular ‘Scav Hunt’ had to be organised by a society. The biggest event this year was not even directly organised by the TUU as it has been in previous years.
Barrels have been few and far between in 2016, or at least barrels which have been advertised to the general student body. Last year there were posters advertising a new one every other week.
Barrels and big student events like ‘Scav Hunt’ are great reasons for students to come to campus, to build relationships with their peers, to have a lot of fun, and their role in creating a campus culture.
The TUU for 2017 should take note – the number of people who were involved with ‘Scav Hunt’ were a hundred times higher than the NUS’ trumpeted (and pointless) ‘National Days of Action’.
Students want fun, not protests. They want an inclusive, engaging, and enjoyable university campus experience, not a few undercooked sausages or ashy rashers of bacon once a semester.
If UTas wants to drop its shamefully high retention rates, if it wants to get students back on campus and more importantly, if it wants to KEEP students, then it needs to take steps to creating a campus culture.