Overview of WA universities

The five universities in Western Australia (ordered by number of enrolments from largest) are:

Table 10.1 Overall enrolment figures for 2004 and comparative statistics

University

Total

% overseas

% postgraduate

% research

% school-leavers

Curtin

36 064

39.7

22.2

4.3

43.1

ECU

23 887

17.8

19.6

2.6

33.1

UWA

16 806

17.7

25.8

11.3

75.0

Murdoch

12 655

17.5

17.8

6.5

34.9

Notre Dame

3 000+

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/Aa

a Notre Dame University is a private Catholic university

Source: Department of Education, Science and Training Selected Higher Education Statistics.

A brief historical overview of these five universities helps to explain the particular unique focus of each institution and the positioning of IS within the universities.

University of Western Australia

The UWA was the state’s first university, established in 1911, and is a member of the Group of Eight—the eight most prominent research-oriented universities in Australia, often referred to as the ‘Sandstone universities’. The UWA has proportionately the highest intake of school-leavers nationally (national average, 44.3 per cent) and consistently recruits more than 80 per cent of the state’s top 5 per cent of school-leavers. The Good Universities Guide says that the ‘UWA has more young, bright full-timers than any other University in the country—it is at the top of the WA academic totem pole’. Typically, all undergraduate students are full-time. With this profile of students, the most popular disciplines are the traditional ones and IS plays only a supporting role. Originally, IS was part of the Department of Information Management and Marketing (DIMM), founded in 1993. A full major of IS units was first offered in 1998. The information management (IM) discipline group is now embedded within the School of Economics and Commerce—itself one of two schools in the UWA Business School.

Curtin University of Technology

Curtin University of Technology is Western Australia’s largest university and evolved from the Western Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT) in 1986. The WAIT was itself created in 1966 from the Perth Technical College, which in 1969 merged with the WA School of Mines, the Muresk Agricultural College and the Schools of Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy. Between 1966 and 1976, student enrolments expanded from 2000 to more than 10 000 and the WAIT consolidated around three large schools of Health Sciences, Business and Administration and Arts and Architecture.

The WAIT’s Business School was the largest in Australia and, in 1975, the School of Computing and Quantitative Studies was formed, with a prime focus on IS. In 1986, when Curtin University was formed, the school was renamed the School of Information Systems and remains within the Business Faculty. There is a separate School of Computer Science in a different faculty.

Curtin has a main campus and two additional metropolitan campuses in Perth, as well as regional campuses in Kalgoorlie and Northam. In addition, it has an offshore campus in Sarawak, Malaysia, and a new campus in Sydney’s central business district. Curtin has 13 education centres within Western Australia and 15 overseas education centres.

Curtin has the largest international student population in the state, with about 40 per cent—which is high by national standards. These students will typically be full-time and their Australian counterparts a mix of full-time and part-time.

Edith Cowan University

Edith Cowan University (ECU) was granted university status in 1991 and evolved from a number of education colleges formed as early as 1902. ECU remains the state’s major provider of teacher education. While it is the state’s second-largest university, it has the largest enrolment of WA students. ECU focuses on the service professions and defines its particular strengths as:

  • education

  • nursing

  • business

  • computing

  • communications

  • creative and performing arts.

Information systems was part of the School of Information Systems and Management Science in the 1980s and became the Department of Management Information Systems in 1988 within the Faculty of Business. A separate School of Computer Science is in a different faculty.

ECU had many campuses but has recently consolidated and now has its main campus 28 km north of the city centre in Joondalup—one of the fastest growth areas in Australia. It has a second city campus and a regional campus at Bunbury in the south.

More than 50 per cent of the students at ECU are ‘mature’ entrants and are typically part-time students. With this profile, IS students would normally come from within the IT industry. As IT suffered a decline in 2004 and 2005, so the student population declined in this period.

Murdoch University

Murdoch University was formally constituted as Western Australia’s second university in 1973 and, while a research-based university, it has a strong emphasis on good teaching. Information systems has had a chequered history as part of an IT group. Originally, the Department of Information Technology was part of the School of Mathematics, Business and Sciences, but, in 1997, IT was moved to Business Information Technology and Law. In 2003, the School of Information Technology was moved into the Division of Arts.

Murdoch University has three campuses—two regional campuses and one city campus.

Notre Dame University

The University of Notre Dame was founded in 1990 and is a private Catholic university. Despite its small size, it has eight colleges and the School of Information Technology resides within the College of Science and Technology. Interestingly, all the courses offered in IT are offered in online mode and the university spawned a separate company to promote the development of such online material. There is no IS group as such and the IT school has only two permanent staff members.

For the purposes of this study, only the public universities are considered in depth. Notre Dame does not have an IS department.

Table 10.2 An overview of the approximate numbers of IS staff and student numbers within the four public universities.

University

Unit

IS staff

IS undergraduate students

IS postgraduate students

Curtin

School of IS

24

~ 160

~ 200

ECU

School of MIS

18

~ 150

~ 110

UWA

School of IT

7

~ 100

~ 25

Murdoch

School E and C

8

~ 70

~ 10

Within these staffing numbers, Curtin University has three IS professors, Edith Cowan has three IS professors and the UWA and Murdoch have no IS professors.