In 1993 the Faculty of Medicine made the historic decision to commit itself to a post-graduate medical course. The impetus for change came from two main directions: desire for change in our teaching methods and dissatisfaction with current methods of student selection. Teaching in the new course will shift radically towards problem-based learning in small groups. Selection will be from graduates with a credit average in any first degree. A graduate admission test is being devised which will include elements of university level physical and social sciences and will also be designed to test written communication skills. All students will also be interviewed.
The last normal entry to Medicine was in 1994; the first postgraduate entry will be in 1997. Clearly there is a formidable amount of planning required in the interim and the Faculty has appointed two new sub-deans, Ann Sefton and Michael Field, to mastermind the preparations. The impact of this new course on the Department will be very great. Discipline-based courses will disappear; courses will be systems-based and the main learning paradigm will be the structured problem rather than lectures. Physiology will no longer control a segment of the curriculum; we will have to actively contribute to the new teaching process and our impact on the students will depend on how effectively we achieve this. Contributors to the new course will need instruction and training in these new approaches. An unresolved concern is the extent to which small group teaching will be feasible with our present staff structure.
Amongst the many changes required by the new course will be different teaching facilities and, fortunately, the refurbishments of the Anderson Stuart Building are in the planning stage and can reflect these new requirements. In 1993 the University formally adopted the Conservation Plan by James Kerr and the Refurbishment Master Plan by Australian Construction Services. A new group of architects (Noel Bell, Ridley Smith and Partners) was hired in early 1994 to produce a detailed refurbishment plan and to oversee the first phase of construction. They have developed the earlier plans to a considerable degree and their overall concept has just been presented to the departments that occupy the building (Physiology and Anatomy & Histology) for their response. The new plans involve a clearer separation of teaching and research and considerable merging of joint facilities. Anatomy teaching will be in the basement, Physiology and Histology on the ground floor. Research labs will be on the first and second floors with improved lift access and increased fire egress. A large increase in tutorial rooms is envisaged and, because of various savings in space, there will be no reduction in research space. The general plan is shown later in the Report.
The Australian Medical Council reviewed the Medical course in 1993 and accredited it for the maximum period of 10 years. The courses offered by the Department of Physiology were generally commended and we have responded to the various suggestions they made regarding our courses. In the context of Quality Assurance, see below, it is noteworthy that the Department of Physiology has been reviewed by outside bodies both in 1991 and 1993.
Quality assurance is a new term to most academics but one which gained prominence, or even notoreity, in 1993. The Government decided to institute a national exercise in which every University was invited to present a portfolio describing how it monitored the quality of its teaching and research. The University of Sydney was judged to have high quality teaching and research but its procedures for monitoring were considered inadequate. Thus the University of Sydney appeared in the second basket of Universities (along with Monash and Woollongong) while our competitors (The University of Melbourne, The University of New South Wales, The University of Queensland and the Australian national university) all appeared in the first basket. Clearly the University needs to give more thought and resources to this issue and, at every level in the University, we have to become more concious of the need to both improve our performance but also to instigate mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing so that poor performance can be recognized and corrected. The Faculty of Medicine, nevertheless rated highly.
Financial pressures continue. One percent was subtracted from all budgets because the University has not been living within its budget, but has been consuming its investment income and this process will continue for several years. The need to spend a greater fraction of University income on building development and maintainence may well lead to further reductions in Departmental budgets in the future. The Vice-Chancellor pointed out recently that this university spends a greater fraction of its budget on tenured staff (academic and general) than our competitors. There is therefore pressure on each Faculty and Department to reduce the fraction of budget spent on tenured staff to around 75%. To facilitate this process the University has instituted an early retirement scheme and present indications are that several members of this department will elect to take early retirement. Replacement staff will have to be on contracts of one sort or another if we are to achieve the Vice-Chancellor's new goals. On the positive side, the Department had the largest grant income ever in 1994 and this represents 46% of our total income. An argument can be made that grant income should be taken into account in calculating the percentage of tenured staff; in this department the percentage of budget spent on tenured staff would be much less than 75% if our total income rather than University income were considered.
Physiology remains popular with students, but student numbers in the Department continue to be a concern because of Faculty of Science rules. The Department's general philosophy is that all students with an adequate background who wish to study Physiology should be able to do so. At present this is far from the case and Faculty of Science policy seems to be designed to prevent this happening. The BMedSc Degree has proved very popular, but the quota imposed by the Faculty of Science is set at 100 for historical reasons and there is great resistance to increasing it. Some of the resistance comes from participating departments, e.g., Biochemistry and Pharmacology, which also contribute to the BSc degree and prefer to have some fraction of their students studying 3rd year courses through that route. Thus the only simple solution, though not an entirely satisfactory one, is to reinstitute our contribution to the BSc degree. The Faculty of Science has, however, shown itself to oppose any attempt to do this. No clear academic reason has been provided for this decision, which if carried to its logical conclusion would exclude Biochemistry and Pharmacology from contributing to both degrees.
Our congratulations to Miriam Frommer who has been promoted to Lecturer; this promotion represents recognition of many years devoted to teaching and supporting our students. Brian Morris was awarded a DSc for his contributions to the regulation of blood pressure and particularly the application of molecular and genetic tools to this complex problem. He also deserves congratulations for his painstaking and forward-looking editorship of the Annual Report. It is a tribute to his dedication that the Department has such an attractive and detailed report and the Report is the main avenue through which Departmental activities are documented and monitored.
Head of Department