Future of Melbourne: Student Precinct in Retrospect

Student Precinct Ambassador, Chukwuma Okonkwo (Chuma), was asked by the Student Precinct Project Team to share his reflections on the Melbourne student experience and his time working on the Project. Chuma is studying a Master of Public Policy at the University of Melbourne after completing his undergraduate degree In Economics and Political Science in Nigeria and a Master of Science in Development Economics in the UK.

Over the last decade, there have been plans, for example, the City Plan 2010 and now Future Melbourne 2026, towards charting a course for the future of the City of Melbourne. In recent times, discussions and debates on the future of Melbourne have significantly changed and shifted towards the people. These discussions and debates have become a campaign, so to speak. At the centre of this campaign is the focus on the people as the driving force for creating the vision for the future of the City of Melbourne, setting the agenda for priority city projects and contributing to policy/decision-making processes. A significant part of this campaign is to turn Melbourne into a first-rate education city that creates intelligence and creativity that fosters learning as well as research and development.

As I follow closely the campaign, particularly the vision for Melbourne as an education city, the question that always resonates on my mind is how will this transformation of the city impact students and their experience, in terms of the services and support that universities provide, and students’ lifestyles, for example, social life, transportation as well as physical environments? Interestingly, this question also resonates with other students across universities in Melbourne that I have interacted with.

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate, alongside other students from the University of Melbourne, in a week-long feature on the future of Melbourne by the Herald Sun. Though we all had different expectations on the future of Melbourne and what the anticipated changes might  look like, we all however, agreed that young people comprising significant number of students, have different views from the older people about how the city will change in years to come. These views are driven by choices, needs and trends. This is a strong indication that the vision for the future of Melbourne needs to take into account the choices, needs and interests of the young people, and particularly those of university students.

Though the vision for an education city is clear, it is however unclear how universities will ensure that the vision will improve students’ experiences and how this will be reflected in student services. Interestingly, the University of Melbourne has taken a bold step towards transforming students’ experience, with the New Student Precinct Project. According to the Student Precinct Project Team, the new Student Precinct, '...will be a vibrant centre of activity where all students have access to social, cultural and community opportunities. It will also be the home of student-led organizations, the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), UMSU International and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and other associated services, spaces and activities, providing students with greater ease of access to events and facilities.’

Having been involved in the Project, as an Ambassador, engaging with students, I think this initiative is a step in the right direction, and in my view will support the delivery of the city’s vision of turning Melbourne into a first-rate education city. In addition it is a demonstration of the university’s commitment to improving students’ experience within and outside the university community. It is also an indication of the University’s recognition of the need to support students, particularly international students, to connect with the broader Melbourne communities.

I have always been asked what inspired me to be part of this Project. My response has always been that it is the sheer recognition by the university that the Project is about the students; hence students should own it, participate in setting priorities, decide what services and physical infrastructures should be provided and contribute to decision-making processes. For me, the fact that the Project from the outset was founded on the spirit of co-creation, which makes it student-focused and allows it to be driven by students’ needs, stimulated my interest in being part of the Project. As I participated more in the engagement activities, where critical issues that may impact on students were discussed and given utmost attention, my interests in the Project skyrocketed.

Therefore, looking back on the progress that has been made in all the different stages of engagement activities with students, and forward to the plans ahead to further engage with students, I am overwhelmingly optimistic that the Project will indeed, deliver the choices of the students and meet students’ expectations.