Interuniversity Collaboration: A model for sustainable specialised public health education programs

Leanne Coombe

Dr Leanne Coombe was recently awarded her Doctor of Public Health. Dr Coombe was able to contribute meaningfully to the body of knowledge about interuniversity collaborations in public health. 

Read a summary of her work here:

Educating specialist public health practitioners, to address priority areas of health need, poses several challenges for educators of the future workforce, especially when low student or appropriately qualified staff numbers threaten viability of courses within individual universities in any given locality. One mechanism that is increasingly of interest to higher education managers as a strategy to address these challenges is the development of teaching programs delivered through interuniversity collaborations. This study examines comparative case studies of two public health education programs to explore and understand the factors that impact on the success and sustainability of interuniversity collaborations in order to support future development and expansion of similar programs. The common features of interuniversity collaborations, and how they correlate with barriers and enablers to sustainability, are explored. This research finds that the influential features that are distinctly applicable to specialised collaborative teaching programs are purpose, membership, structure and leadership. Additionally, Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of social fields is applied to the findings from the study to explore the impacts of external influences on the functioning of interuniversity collaborations as social fields that determine their autonomy, as it is argued that sustainability is dependent on maintaining autonomy as a distinctly recognisable and separate entity from its member institutions. A correlation between the influential features for specialised teaching collaborations and the mechanisms that determine their autonomy is revealed. A model of the mechanisms for achieving autonomy of interuniversity collaborations is therefore outlined. Furthermore, it is proposed that appropriate management structures need to correlate with the purpose and structure of the teaching program, rather than be informed by concerns over ownership. A model of centralised leadership is also recommended to foster institutional ownership and to produce the benefits derived from partnership capital.  Finally, it is argued that there is a need to rethink the structures of public health degrees in Australia, and to expand the use of collaborative specialist teaching programs based on the separate public health disciplines at the postgraduate level and defer much of the foundational teaching either to the undergraduate level or a small number of generalist postgraduate public health degrees.

Read a full article on this important work here, published in Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management!

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