Ayaka Akashi studied in the United States briefly before making the switch to Australia. Here, at a cosy campus in Perth, which is just a stone’s throw from her apartment, she has settled in very comfortably and is happy she made the right decision.
“I find the standard of education in Australia higher than in America for the first degree,” says the pretty Japanese lass who speaks fluent English.
On a Thursday afternoon in April, she was rehearsing an oral presentation with her Korean partner Okrak Kim, 22, after classes at a quiet corner of the quadrangle courtyard in the campus of the Australian Institute for University Studies (AIUS).
The two international students had found ideal accommodation at Joondalup where the modern purpose-built AIUS campus is situated and found it really convenient getting to college. But best of all, they were enjoying classes too.
“I really like it here at AIUS. The classes are small and really conducive for students, especially foreign students like us,” says Ayaka, 23, who is in the first semester of her degree programme in commerce.
“I feel comfortable asking questions in class; I don’t feel intimidated as I would in a big class where I would be embarrassed to say anything.
“Here, the small classes make it easy to get to know everyone and to make friends,” she adds.
Another student who shares her views is Norhasmah Mohd Naroden from Sarawak, Kuching. After pursuing her pre-university studies at a private institution with a big enrolment in Kuala Lumpur, she finds AIUS a refreshing change.
“I did my research before coming to study here. I find this place more personalised. I chose to study at AIUS instead of at Curtin (University of Technology) because that is too big,” says Kino, as she is known to her friends, in reference to Curtin’s Bentley campus which has an enrolment of 30,000 students.
AIUS is often referred to as Curtin’s Joondalup campus in the northern corridor of Western Australia where it offers a range of diploma and degree courses moderated by Curtin. Students can complete the courses at AIUS or gain direct entry with advanced standing into Curtin.
Tuition fees at AIUS range from A$9,500 (RM28,500) for a one-year Certificate IV course to A$43,200 (RM129,600) for a three-year business degree programme.
“My classes at AIUS are small; there are only 13 in my course and six in my chemistry class. The lecturer knows all our names and we can combine our lectures and tutorials because of our number.
“I find it much easier to focus on my studies. I know everyone in my class and I really like that.
“In a big campus, a student is just a number. But here you are a person. When I was studying in KL, there were lots of students and everyone belonged to their own clique so it was really difficult to make friends,” says Kino who is pursuing a one-year Diploma of Science.
Once she completes that, she will gain advanced standing into Year Two of the Bachelor of Biomedical Science at Murdoch University, also in Perth. After completing the degree course in two years, she plans to take up Master of Pharmacy at Murdoch and complete that in another two years.
Kino is pleased that she will be able to gain a post-graduate qualification in Pharmacy in just five years.
Strong academic support
Michael Hicks, senior lecturer and co-ordinator, Accounting and Information Systems, says many students pick the smaller AIUS campus over others because of the advantages it offers.
“Many like it here because they get more academic support and therefore the best chance of maximising their marks. The good students do better and those with lesser abilities maximize their potential,” he says.
Earlier he taught a class of 10 third year students Accounting Managerial 301. After class, one student stayed behind to get his help on a project she was working on although it was not taught by him.
“Students have no problem approaching us. In a big campus, you would have to make an appointment and the time a lecturer has for his students would have to be divided by so many of them.
“At AIUS, we are superior in the sense that we have greater contact with our students, provide more personal support and are readily available to speak to students.”
A survey conducted by AIUS last year shows that its enrolment of about 500 students is happy with the teaching and support provided. About one-third are international students.
More than 90% indicate that the lecturers are very helpful while 79% of respondents say lecturers explain their subject material well. 73% find the academic staff dedicated and motivated.
Hicks acknowledges though that some students prefer the buzz of a bigger campus. The biggest disadvantage here for those who craved parties and an active social life would be that they find it too quiet at AIUS or Joondalup, which is just 20 minutes by road or train to Perth city centre.
“The danger of being in such a distracting environment would of course then be too much partying. What students like and what is good for them is different.
“Here, you get good camaraderie and enough social life. We’re a great place to study. As a parent, I would want prefer my child to be here,” he says.
Hicks is teaching one of the most popular courses on campus. Close to half of the students taking up the Bachelor of Commerce opt to major in Accounting.
The degree programme is identical to the qualification offered at the Curtin University Bentley campus in terms of academic structure and standards. Students may opt for single major in accounting or
double major in accounting and finance, banking and marketing, among others.
There is a huge demand for the course although it is harder. The demand is partly due to an acute shortage of accountants in Western Australia.
“Every student that graduated had a job last year. Quite a few students also decide to work after they complete their second year. They continue their studies on a reduced workload. Instead of four units, they do one or two,” says Hicks.
Some work for companies that offer them study allowance. The situation, he adds, is particular to accounting only.
The group size for lectures is currently at 120 while tutorials are for a maximum of 20.
“Another advantage we have here is that we get unit co-ordinators to teach here. These are people who know the curricula best as they are the ones who draw them up. They conduct tutorials for our students; at bigger campuses, they would be lecturing big numbers,” adds Hicks.
He is also co-ordinating the Accounting unit for the China
programme that AIUS has set up with the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Beijing.
There are 34 students taking the diploma of commerce programme moderated by AIUS which sends its staff to teach 20% of the coursework as part of its quality control measures.
NIT, a school for children of expatriates, offers Years 11 and 12 (with approval from the Western Australian Government). It now offers pre-university studies, diploma courses and ELICOS, an English language intensive course for overseas students, in partnership with AIUS. The relevant courses get advanced standing into the AIUS/Curtin programmes.
Another offshore campus that has been successfully set up is the Stirling School of Business in Singapore, says Jeff Francis, deputy chairman of Excel Education Pty Ltd, which owns AIUS and AIGM (Australian Institute for Golf Management) and is a subsidiary of Star Publications (M) Bhd.
“We are working on setting up more offshore campuses to give our students options and to act as a feeder to our campus. We are also negotiating for tie-ups with other Western Australia universities like Notre Dame University for science courses. What we have recently established is an associate degree programme which will eventually articulate to some of the top universities In Australia. We also offer a first year event management course that articulates into Edith Cowan University,” he adds.
Curtin, however, remains AIUS’ strongest partner and offers students advanced standing into a wide range of degree courses. As one of the top 10 universities in Australia, says Francis, Curtin’s courses offered at AIUS are popular with local and foreign students.
AIUS chief executive officer Kevin Woods says the institution is working on numerous academic links, including ties in the Middle East, India, Africa and Myanmar.
With a capacity for 1,800 students on its campus, which is situated on 13.8 hectares of landscaped parkland, Woods says the institution is working towards a higher ratio of international students.
“But we will want to keep the balance of Australian and foreign enrolment right; international students want a diverse cultural environment,” he adds.
AIUS is currently developing new courses in design and multimedia (associate degrees) as well as setting up offshore programmes that lead to the final year in Perth.
It has also put in place a new initiative with Notre Dame to prepare foundation science students with the option to transfer to the university.
AIUS is divided into several blocks that are all inter-linked with covered walkways. Surrounded by lush greenery and landscaping tended to by the affable John, it is a picturesque campus.
Students usually gather around the quadrangle courtyard adjoining the library and cafetaria. AIUS shares premises with its sister institution AIGM which runs its formal classes at the campus while the golf lessons are held at the Joondalup Country Club, less than a 10-minute drive away.
The campus has 19 classrooms, two state-of-the-art lecture theatres, six computer labs, a language lab, four science labs, two mass communication labs, a library seminar room and a conference room.
Everyone has access to the newly set up student web portal called MySIS (My Student Information Service) which links them to numerous functions and services including email, timetable, personal planner, announcements, discussion forums, address book and assignments.
Director of IT and communications Rodney Francis says every student is reminded to log in at least once a week to check for announcements and possible change of classes.
After setting up the portal, a survey was conducted to see if students were using it. When it was discovered that only 60% used it in the first month, there was an awareness drive to push more to log in.
Assignments, coursework and lessons can be obtained from the portal. For example, under the Elicos programme, students can take a test and be graded immediately while the teacher can check how they fared, how long they took to complete the test as well as keep track of their test scores.
Reciprocal borrowing rights have been established with the Curtin Bentley campus library for degree students to complement AIUS’ well-stocked library.
A popular hangout is the student recreation centre called “The Club” which is equipped with pool tables, table tennis table, video library, a piano and a gym. Students can also utilise the basketball, netball and tennis courts on campus.
A professional counsellor is available for students who need help with study skills, time management, personal, cultural and other problems.
“Where AIUS students are concerned,” says Jeff Francis, “they are not treated like an enrolment number but a person who deserves our attention and our commitment.”