Quality education at low cost in 20-minute city


BY SIMRIT KAUR

Adelaide in South Australia offers foreign students a quiet, safe and welcoming environment. It is touted as an ideal study destination with smaller student numbers and a lower cost of living compared to other Australian cities. 

LANDMARK: The Brookman Building in the City East campus of the University of South Australia.

IMAGINE being welcomed to a new city by its Lord Mayor. In Adelaide, South Australia, foreign students get to experience this firsthand. It has become a tradition for the mayor to throw a welcome party at the Town Hall for those coming to Adelaide for the first time. 

This is possible as the foreign student numbers in Adelaide are relatively small. There are only 9,712 international students of which 5,645 attend university. Malaysians account for 18.2% of this number and together with China and Hong Kong are the top source countries for South Australia. 

Overall, South Australia gets only 4.3% of international university students in Australia. However, Education Adelaide, a semi-government agency which promotes Adelaide as a study destination for international students, is determined to change the equation. 

It is banking on two main factors – accessibility and affordability. Because of Adelaide's small size, major areas can be accessed on foot. 

In fact, Adelaide is known as “the 20-minute city”; everything is available within a 20-minute walk. There are no traffic jams and the distances students have to travel to get from one place to another is very short. 

Education Adelaide chief executive Patrick Markwick-Smith says that the state has much to offer international students. 

“Cities like Melbourne and Sydney are filled to capacity. They are crowded and the cost of living is high. Adelaide is small by comparison and can accommodate more foreign students than what we have now.” 

Almost all who come to South Australia enrol at its three universities – University of Adelaide (UoA) University of South Australia (UniSA) and Flinders University. Each university has its own characteristics and areas of specialisation. 

Overall, Australia is still one of the top destinations for foreign students. The Higher Education report 2003-2005 says there were 929, 639 students studying in Australian higher education institutions in 2003, an increase of 33,018. 

The Australian university year is from late February to late June (Semester 1) and July to late November (Semester 2).  

Most undergraduate courses begin in Semester 1 only but some are available in Semester 2 as well. Postgraduate courses may begin in either semester. 

Tuition fees differ from university to university but generally students should expect to pay anything between A$12,000 (Arts) to A$18,000 (Science) for a degree programme per year. 

RELAXED LIFESTYLE: Students in Adelaide can enjoy a cuppa outdoors with wonderful weather all year round.

Cost considerations 

The recent appreciation of the Australian dollar has caused Malaysians still keen to pursue their tertiary education overseas to look for ways to stretch their ringgit

Studying in Adelaide may hold the answer. The city is reported to be the cheapest to stay in among major Australian cities. 

Mark Hentschke, marketing operations manager for Education Adelaide says that international students would pay 18% more to live in Sydney, 15% in Melbourne, 7% in Perth and 5% in Brisbane. 

Weekly expenses for a student in Adelaide can be as low as A$200. The breakdown would be: A$80- A$180 (rent), A$50- A$60 (food), A$15- A$20 (gas & electricity) A$10- A$15 (transport) A$10- A$15 (telephone) and about A$30- A$40 for other expenses. 

Transport is cheap too as international students get a concession card to travel around on public transport. Not only that, there is also a free bus service which plies the town centre.  

Although Adelaide is relatively small, many tourists, students and locals take advantage of the service which stops at all the major spots in Adelaide including the Adelaide Market, Victoria Square, Botanical Garden, Museum and Art Gallery and the campuses of UoA and UniSA. 

Malaysian and Asian food is readily available and halal meat and sambal belacan can be bought at the Central Market which is at its busiest on a Saturday morning. 

While Adelaide lacks the bright lights and distractions of Sydney and Melbourne, it compensates for it by holding various art and cultural events. SA is known as the festival state and students who join clubtwentysix get concession rates for dance, theatre and music performances. For example, entry into 10 shows during the recent Adelaide Festival of Arts would only cost A$20. 

Former Malaysian Kim Kong, an international student advisor at Eynesbury College, provides homestay places for eight international students. Her husband, a former cook, now stays at home to look after the needs of the students and they have two houses as each homestay student gets a room to himself. 

AFFORDABLE: Medical students Koh U-Jun (left) and Yap Sze Pheh say that living in Adelaide is inexpensive.

“There are plenty of Asian families for students to stay with here. They prefer Asian families because of the food situation. Homestay parents are expected to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for students who stay with them,'' she says. 

Leow Weng Hume, 18, from Ipoh did his calculations before deciding to come to Eynesbury College to do a certificate and diploma. He is hoping to enter the University of South Australia. He found out about the college from a friend who had also studied in the college. 

“I can enter into the second year of a UniSA programme and I save money and time by coming here first. I came here after my SPM. The certificate only took me four months and the diploma eight months. The diploma is considered equivalent to the first year of a degree programme.” 

Weng Hume thinks that Adelaide is a safer place and more conducive to studying than KL! “There are too many distractions in KL.” He is comfortable at his homestay – he pays A$160 a week staying with a Malaysian Chinese and food is not a problem. He says that international students can get by on A$800 per month or less (excluding tuition fees). 

Flinders University student Sharifuzah Osman says that the cost of accommodation is lower in areas around the university as it is further away from the city. 

She only pays A$55 a week for a two-room unit which she shares with an Indonesian student. “It is very cheap as it is unfurnished and the rent does not include utilities.” 

Nurjihan Abdullah, another Flinders student only pays A$140 a week for her unit which is big enough to accommodate her husband and children. “Staying outside is much cheaper than on-campus accommodation.” Food on campus is relatively inexpensive too. A plate of fried noodles only costs A$5, she adds. 

University of Adelaide 

The University of Adelaide (UoA) is one of Australia’s most prestigious universities. Established in 1874, it is the third oldest university in the country.  

It has 16,000 students across four campuses and there are currently more than 2,000 international students from 70 different countries. About 600 are Malaysians. 

Regarded as one of Australia's top research universities – it is a member of the ‘Group of Eight’ – UoA has produced three Nobel prize winners including the current winner for Literature – J.M. Coetzee. 

UoA is considered strong in wine and food, biological sciences, physical sciences, information technology and telecommunications, environmental sciences and social sciences.  

Prof John E Taplin, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) says that UoA is number one in income per capita and research output for South Australian universities. “We are a five-star university in terms of prestige, status and demand to get in and we get more applications from high quality students.” 

HOME-COOKED: Weng Hume (far left) heats up his lunch in college.

A university survey of international students gave five reasons why they chose UoA – its long established reputation, quality of programmes, excellence of academic staff, the traditional university feel of the campus and the affordability of Adelaide the city, he added.  

There are a large number of international students in its medicine and dentistry programmes. 

Medical students are selected based on a personal qualities assessment test, face-to-face interview and academic results. 

In 2000, a new curriculum was introduced for medicine. Traditional subjects like Anatomy and Physiology are no longer taught separately but integrated through the PBL (Problem Based Learning) approach. 

Executive dean, Prof Peter Rathjen, says students are now given case studies which they discuss in small groups in the first three years. A case may continue to develop for a few weeks until the learning objectives have been achieved by the student. 

“This makes learning more contextual as in Years 4, 5 and 6 students will be working on real patients in real time.” 

He adds that through this method, students are more motivated to learn, can apply what they learn and develop clinical reasoning ability. PBL has now become the norm in most medical schools in Australia. 

Second year medical student Koh U-Jun,19, says that learning this way is less stressful for students and more meaningful. “We can work on one case for a few weeks. It is more relevant than memorising isolated facts and regurgitating them in the exam,'' adds the Malaysian from Kuala Lumpur. 

UoA has six residential colleges, located a mere 10-minute walk away from the university's North Terrace campus. Most Asians, however, prefer to stay off campus and rent a unit so they can cook for themselves.  

University of South Australia 

UniSA is the largest university in South Australia, and fifth largest in Australia with 32,000 students studying over 300 programmes on six campuses. 10,000 of them are international students studying both onshore and offshore. 

Malaysian students number 1,458 but only 721 of them are actually in Adelaide, the rest are on offshore programmes, with most studying business related qualifications. 

It was founded in 1991 through the amalgamation of the South Australian Institute of Technology and the Magill, Salisbury and Underdale campuses of the South Australian College of Advanced Education.  

UniSA offers more than 300 programmes and is the only South Australian university to offer degrees in medical radiation, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physiotherapy, podiatry, environmental toxicology, marketing and journalism. 

It is a member of the Australian Technology Network, a grouping of five Australian universities, comprising UniSA, University of Technology Sydney, RMIT University, Queensland University of Technology, and Curtin University of Technology.  

Dr Anna Ciccarelli, executive-director and vice-president (international and development) says it is a top-ranked university for innovative research linked to industry and is also the largest provider of offshore education in Australia. 

UniSA was also one of the first universities to adopt a set of principles called Graduate Qualities – attributes that employers look for. “All universities would claim to produce graduates with these qualities but we have incorporated it into our teaching and learning programme,'' says Dr Ciccarelli. 

The seven qualities include producing graduates who are effective problem solvers, responsible, can work autonomously and collaboratively, and have good communication skills. 

UniSA is the top choice of Tafe (Technical and Further Education) students as 93% choose to continue their studies here, says Prof Bruce King, director of the university's Flexible Learning Centre. 

An advanced online learning environment sets UniSA apart. UniSA also established the first online career guidance and placement services for students – Experiencebank.  

All students at UniSA are provided with round-the-clock use of a state-of-the-art online environment to assist with learning and communication. This minimises the time they spend on administrative matters. 

“These facilities can be used even by people with low IT proficiency through the use of wizards. Our website was voted the most visited education website in Australia in December 2003 and January 2004.” 

In Malaysia, UniSA is often associated with Sepang Institute of Technology (SIT) with which it has a very successful 2+2 partnership in Pharmacy and a 3+0 programme in Computer and Information Science. 

Flinders University 

Flinders University is located about 25 minutes drive from Adelaide and has 14,800 students studying in a single, purpose-built 180 hectare campus. It is often dubbed the “students' university” because of its beautiful setting. 

Flinders offers more than 160 undergraduate and postgraduate courses. International students make up 10% of the on-campus student population.  

It was established in 1966 and takes its name from British navigator Matthew Flinders, who explored and surveyed the South Australian coastline in 1802. 

The university is renowned for its Arts programmes namely Psychology, Education, and Literature and has won several national teaching awards.  

In 2002, the Australian Science and Mathematics School was built. It was the first school in Australia to be fully integrated with a university. Cutting-edge teaching methods for both subjects are piloted here. 

Flinders four-year Bachelor of Biotechnology (Honours) degree is highly rated and features in a 2003 survey of Australian biotechnology degree programmes. “In the review, we came out in the top six,'' says Dr Fiona Young from the Department of Biotechnology. 

She adds that the department only takes in 30-40 students every year and that it is as competitive to get into biotechnology as it is to study medicine. A science background is not required. 

“We cover all areas including medical, pharmaceutical, environmental, agricultural and industrial biotechnology. So students who are not clear of what specialisation they want to go into can tailor their degree to a specific field later.” 

Postgraduate and undergraduate students must do a course on Enterprise Management to familiarise themselves with the business part of biotechnology. 

“We learn how to write a business plan, budget, and study regulatory laws. Being from a Science background, learning about finances and accounting was useful as this is what we will face in the real world,'' says Indian student, Vivek Viyayraghavan, 23. 

Flinders also has a graduate entry medical programme – one of the few in Australia. It enables students with an undergraduate degree (in any discipline) to enter a four-year medical programme. It was the first university in Australia to introduce it.  

The university has excellent on-campus accommodation for 530 students in University Hall and fully furnished townhouses. The average cost is A$180 per week, says resident tutor Cheng Yee Ting, a Singaporean undergraduate.  

“This includes all meals from Monday to Friday, excluding weekends.'' As a resident tutor, Yee Ting gets to stay for free and only has to pay A$60 for food. 

In return for free accommodation, Yee Ting generally acts as a liaison person between the university administration and residents and organises activities for students who stay on campus.To ensure a good mix of nationalities, there is a 50:50 ratio of Australian and international students on campus. However, demand is high and there is a waiting list to get in. First year international students are given priority. 

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