cul­ture

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There are few things that law stu­dents at Sydney Uni­ver­sity and at UNSW will defend more pas­sion­ately: the qual­ity of their respect­ive insti­tu­tions — just which law school is bet­ter?

I don’t pro­fess to have the answer to this ques­tion, because it is unfair for me to answer this ques­tion when I have only atten­ded one of them (Sydney). How­ever, surely, a recourse to stat­ist­ics would provide us with an object­ive answer?

And with stat­ist­ics, UNSW has pro­claimed them­selves the King of Law Schools in Aus­tralia. They claim:

The Fac­ulty of Law at the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales in Sydney leads all Aus­trali­an uni­ver­sit­ies for the qual­ity of learn­ing and teach­ing law. This is the second con­sec­ut­ive year the Fac­ulty of Law, togeth­er with UNSW Aus­trali­an School of Busi­ness, has achieved the top rank­ing in the busi­ness, law and eco­nom­ics cluster.

This claim is fol­lowed by a bunch of graphs that show that UNSW scores high­er on a num­ber of met­rics, includ­ing “over­all sat­is­fac­tion”, “gen­er­ic skills” and “good teach­ing” as meas­ured by the Group of Eight. So far, this is all very con­vin­cing evid­ence that UNSW is bet­ter, right?

As Daniel poin­ted out when we were per­us­ing these graphs togeth­er, there is a fun­da­ment­al flaw with the stat­ist­ics as presen­ted. Where would they obtain meas­ure­ments for met­rics such “over­all sat­is­fac­tion” from? From their gradu­ates of course. Unless they per­formed some kind of nor­m­al­isa­tion between the dif­fer­ent uni­ver­sit­ies, the out­come is liable to be affected by, for example, the dif­fer­ence between what Sydney and UNSW law stu­dents expect from their courses (maybe Sydney stu­dents just demand more?) or bias arising from the pride that stu­dents have in their own insti­tu­tion.

Clearly, stat­ist­ics are one factor to con­sider in your choice of law school or uni­ver­sity. How­ever, it would be a mis­take to base your decision merely on these stat­ist­ics, or oth­er stat­ist­ics such as the pro­por­tion of gradu­ates in full-time employ­ment after a year (maybe more stu­dents from a par­tic­u­lar uni­ver­sity went into post-gradu­ate study?). There is more to uni­ver­sity than that. You need to con­sider the exper­i­ence out­side the classroom, in the form of clubs and soci­et­ies and extra­cur­ricular activ­it­ies. There is also a dif­fer­ence in cul­ture that you need to con­sider. This was best high­lighted for me when I watched the UNSW Law Revue last year; their jokes weren’t funny to me for the most part, yet all the UNSW-ers seemed to enjoy it; I put it down to a dif­fer­ence in cul­ture.

So what do I think? I cer­tainly don’t regret choos­ing Sydney Uni­ver­sity (for both my sci­ence and law degrees). I enjoy the intel­lec­tu­al­ism that per­vades the place, although law stu­dents at Sydney tend to be more com­pet­it­ive than I find optim­al.

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I was going with Ru Jih to Darling Har­bour last week (she hasn’t been there before!) when we ran into the Earth from Above exhib­i­tion, a series of breath­tak­ing aer­i­al pho­to­graphs dis­played along­side the path­way from Hay­mar­ket to Darling Har­bour (adja­cent to the so-called “Urb­an Stream”). Pho­to­graphed by Yann Arthus-Ber­trand, the idea behind the exhib­i­tion is to focus atten­tion on sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, and short fact­oids about the impact of human devel­op­ment accom­pan­ied the pho­to­graphs.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any­thing like that at Darling Har­bour, or for that mat­ter, in Sydney — I was nicely sur­prised to come by it. Giv­en my recent com­ments on how Sydney feels like a dough­nut, hol­low in the centre, com­pared with Mel­bourne, I’d have to say this is a pos­it­ive step for­ward, in bring­ing some sense of “cul­ture” back into the city. Dani­elle didn’t seem to think so; on hear­ing about it, he com­men­ted, “this would be high cul­ture… what about the cul­ture that devel­ops nat­ur­ally. the vibe of a city”.

I guess you can’t please every­one. I just wished that I had known about it before — but it’s there till 26 Decem­ber if you’re inter­ested in see­ing it.

In any case, Darling Har­bour will have to wait anoth­er day; we used up all our time look­ing at the pic­tures.

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I prom­ised to write a little more thought­fully about my trip down in Mel­bourne, but I’ve been a little lazy and it’s been over a week. Appar­ently, the longer you leave it, the rosi­er your memor­ies become, so I may very well be extolling non-exist­ent vir­tues of Mel­bourne.

So, the hard ques­tion first up: is Mel­bourne bet­ter than Sydney? In some respects, yes. Just like this Heck­ler heckles, Sydney’s CBD is becom­ing increas­ingly hol­lowed out by the dearth of things to do in the heart of the busi­ness dis­trict — this is none more evid­ent than in the area just south of Cir­cu­lar Quay. (For those of you who don’t know me well, the ample abund­ance of club­bing does not count.) Mel­bourne, on the oth­er hand, lives up to its repu­ta­tion as being a “net­work of vil­lages” — pock­ets of life are sewn togeth­er by a car­pet of res­taur­ants and cafés that spill out into the street, odd pieces of street fur­niture, often slightly eccent­ric, and the well-designed pub­lic spaces that make you want to appre­ci­ate the city’s beauty at night. Clearly, it hasn’t worked every­where though; the Dock­lands was some­thing I was look­ing for­ward to see, but although the sleek, mod­ern build­ings com­ple­men­ted the smooth tran­quil­ity of the water­front, it was devoid of life — but per­haps it was just the wrong night for that. Dur­ing the day, Melbourne’s full of the hustle and bustle that you’d expect to find in a city that’s con­fid­ent of itself and how it can make its own way without blandly copy­ing what oth­ers have done before — it’s easy to get lost just wan­der­ing around the shop­ping centres (Mel­bourne makes shop­ping centres sexy) and the alley­ways that the city is fam­ous for.

The oth­er thing that I’ll com­ment on is the trans­port, and for this I’ll drop the rosy lan­guage and get a little more object­ive. Trams are a fant­ast­ic idea, but I can see why it might not work so well in Sydney. Trams steam ahead without being forced to start and stop and start and stop by the rest of the traffic on the road (buses in Sydney make me think of pri­or­ity inver­sion), but in order to achieve this, you need ded­ic­ated tram lanes — Melbourne’s main streets are notice­ably wider than than those in Sydney (say, com­pared with George, Pitt and Cast­lereigh Streets) and thus you can afford to give an entire lane to trams. If you’re hop­ping around the CBD, you don’t really have to walk a lot because of how the lines are set up — which is how pub­lic trans­port should be — hop on, hop off at will. Trains were bewil­der­ing though. I don’t under­stand how you can run a train sys­tem where you can get from A to B by train, but there’s no way to get from B to A without tak­ing a tor­tu­ous route (the sta­tion staff just told us to catch a tram instead). Seem­ingly obvi­ous (to tour­ists at least) routes between pop­u­lar sta­tions just don’t exist, and if you’re just hop­ping around the CBD, you’re best off pre­tend­ing the trains don’t exist. South­ern Cross sta­tion, how­ever, is one impress­ive piece of archi­tec­ture, and it just shows how Sydney has fallen too far in favour­ing util­it­ari­an func­tion over form.

Will I be vis­it­ing again? Yes, def­in­itely, if I’m after a break in civil­isa­tion (as opposed to a break with rocks and trees and things), Mel­bourne is the place to be. As you prob­ably noticed, we spent the entire trip basic­ally in the CBD — next time, I’d be sure to have a look a little fur­ther out, and see what gems lie out­side the (attract­ive) stain­less steel and glass jungle.

Lots of pho­tos: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

P.S. Wikitravel is quite use­ful and clearly con­tains tips from every­day loc­als who know best: see, for example, the Mel­bourne entry.

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