SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING FOR WHOLE OF LIFE: INTEGRATING EDUCATION, RESEARCH AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IN A COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENT
Policy makers increasingly recognise that an educated workforce with a high proportion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates is a pre-requisite to a knowledge-based, innovative economy. Over the past ten years, the proportion of first university degrees awarded in STEM fields is below the global average and continues to decrease (from 22.2% in 2002 to 18.8% in 2010) . These trends are mirrored by declines between 20% and 30% in the proportions of high school students enrolled in science or maths. These trends are not unique to Australia but their impact is of concern throughout the policy-making community.
To redress these demographic trends, QUT embarked upon a long-term investment strategy to integrate education and research into the physical and virtual infrastructure of the campus, recognising that expectations of students change as rapidly as technology and learning practices change. To implement this strategy, physical infrastructure refurbishment/re-building is accompanied by upgraded technologies not only for learning but also for research. QUT’s vision for its city-based campuses is to create vibrant and attractive places to learn and research and to link strongly to the wider surrounding community.
Over a five year period, physical infrastructure at the Gardens Point campus was substantially reconfigured in two key stages: (a) a >$50m refurbishment of heritage-listed buildings to encompass public, retail and social spaces, learning and teaching “test beds” and research laboratories and (b) destruction of five buildings to be replaced by a $230m, >40,000m2 Science and Engineering Centre designed to accommodate retail, recreation, services, education and research in an integrated, coordinated precinct.
This landmark project is characterised by (i) self-evident, collaborative spaces for learning, research and social engagement, (ii) sustainable building practices and sustainable ongoing operation and (iii) dynamic and mobile re-configuration of spaces or staffing to meet demand. Innovative spaces allow for transformative, cohort-driven learning and the collaborative use of space to prosecute joint class projects. Research laboratories are aggregated, centralised and “on display” to the public, students and staff.
A major visualisation space – the largest multi-touch, multi-user facility constructed to date – is a centrepiece feature that focuses on demonstrating scientific and engineering principles or science-oriented scenes at large scale (e.g. the Great Barrier Reef). Content on this visualisation facility is integrated with the regional school curricula and supports an in-house schools program for student and teacher engagement. Researchers are accommodated in a combined open-plan and office floor-space (80% open plan) to encourage interdisciplinary engagement and cross-fertilisation of skills, ideas and projects. This combination of spaces re-invigorates the on-campus experience, extends educational engagement across all ages and rapidly enhances research collaboration.