The National Clearinghouses: Life After Death
UniServe Science, The University of Sydney
In 1994 CAUT funded the UniServe pilot project for a period of three years. The purpose of the project was to establish a network of clearinghouses to collect and disseminate information on the use of IT within tertiary teaching with the view to improving teaching methods. The network consisted of: a central co-ordinating centre at the Australian National University (UniServe Australia); the engineering clearinghouse at the University of Wollongong (UniServe Engineering); the medicine, health sciences and nursing clearinghouse at the University of Newcastle (UniServe Health); the law clearinghouse at the Australian National University (UniServe Law); the humanities and social sciences clearinghouse at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (ultiBASE); and the science clearinghouse at The University of Sydney (UniServe Science). CAUT funding for the project has run out and so all the clearinghouses have had to look elsewhere for financial support. On Tuesday February 17, 1998, representatives from all clearinghouses (except Law) met in Canberra to review the project and discuss future directions.
Success of the project
All clearinghouses present agreed that although they had each approached the task given to them in different ways they had achieved their goals and delivered the required services. This was inspite of some rather adverse conditions ‹ the project was under-funded, lacked Federal support after changes in government, and was ill-defined. All felt it unfortunate that continued Federal funding was not forthcoming as the need for a national information dissemination group for the tertiary sector was vital. Universities need to share materials and move beyond the current situation where most products developed within a university are only used within that institution. Mind you, the sharing of materials and innovative methods of teaching is becoming a touchy subject in the current environment where universities are being made to compete aggressively with each other for students in order to gain funding. To make this happen there must be an organisation which transcends institution boundaries and facilitates discussion and the exchange of ideas between academics. The clearinghouses are ideal for this and have already set up quite extensive programmes and structures towards this end.
Future of UniServe
Each of the clearinghouses has managed to secure a level of funding to continue operating, at least in the short term. In most cases the funding is being provided by the host institution, so each clearinghouse will have a greater responsibility to their own university, which is unfortunate as the group should be above local politics. However, all see the value of the national network and so will continue to deliver a service to all tertiary academics.
Since co-ordination between the clearinghouses is seen to be minimal from this point on, the Co-ordinating Centre in Canberra will wind down their operation over the next few months. UniServe Science, based at The University of Sydney, will then take responsibility for any remaining co-ordination activities. Sadly we farewell the UniServe Australia staff, Tim Marples (Director, UniServe Australia), Cathy Clegg and Aileen McCulloch who have all contributed a great deal to the success of the project.
The UniServe project has brought together forward thinking teachers, across disciplines, who felt isolated in their departments. Ideas and experiences have been shared, leading to improvements in teaching and learning.
UniServe Science News Volume 9 March 1998
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