Not School, Uni

Given that last week was my final week of classes in Sydney, I suppose it’s as good a time as any to tell you about the University of New South Wales and what it’s like to be a student there.

The UNSW campus is located in Kensington, about a mile and a half from my apartment. It takes about 35 minutes to walk there and a bit less to walk home as it’s mostly uphill one way and mostly downhill the other. Study abroad students living in Coogee commonly take the 370 bus to get to and from campus.  The 370 departs from the beach and goes directly to campus via Coogee Bay Road.  The ride in either direction is never longer than ten minutes, and buses pass each stop at (supposedly) 20-minute intervals every day between the hours of 5:30AM and 8:00PM.  I rarely take the 370 because the beach bus stop is a little out of the way.  This semester, I’ve tried to walk to uni as often as possible because it’s a nice walk and good for my body and for my wallet (not that AUD $1.50 or so each way is unreasonable).  If I want to take a bus, like when I’m late or it’s raining or I have a lot to carry, I take one from the bus stop on Havelock Ave. about 100 yards from my apartment.  All the buses (the 313, 314, 372, and 373) that stop at Havelock Ave. near/opposite Asher St. go through Randwick, the town just next to Kensington.  These buses run much more frequently than the 370, so I never have to wait more than five minutes for a bus to take me to Randwick.  From Randwick, it’s about a ten-minute walk the rest of the way to campus. (If you ever come to Sydney, be sure to use the Transport Info website to help you get around using public transportation).

But when you get to see the Pacific Ocean like this on your walk home from uni each day, taking the bus seems silly.

walk home

The University of New South Wales is a large and multicultural institution. Of the 40,000+ students, almost 10,000 of them are international.   My classmates hail from countries including China, Japan, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Canada, and Kuwait.  I have overheard too many different accents to count.

UNSW is also a very young university relative to universities in the United States.  In July, UNSW celebrated its 60th birthday with Foundation Day festivities across campus. It was similar to Georgetown Day, except that some of the celebration took place at the Roundhouse/Unibar, the on-campus bar.  This semester, the Unibar has hosted several Thursday night events (sponsored by the student organization ARC) including Pirates vs. Ninjas, Oktoberfest, and End of Year Roller Disco.  It’s also a place to have a beer and shoot pool with friends after class and, in a few cases, a place for professors to hold class on the last day.

The overall culture at UNSW is more relaxed than at Georgetown.  This is well illustrated by the attendance policy and patterns.  Many, if not most, classes at UNSW consist of one lecture and one tutorial per week.  In general, attendance at lectures is not required or monitored.  At least eighty percent attendance at tutorials is mandatory, though. If you’ve attended eighty percent of the tutorials for any given class, it’s common to skip the last two simply because you can (unless you know they’ll involve reviewing for the final exam). The lectures I attended  were increasingly empty as the semester progressed. One of my study abroad friends had class scheduling conflicts at the beginning of the semester.  The study abroad academic advisor suggested my friend take two courses whose lectures occurred at the same time and alternate by attending each lecture once every two weeks.

I think the campus culture is also influenced by the fact that a large number of students live off-campus.  When I say off-campus, I don’t mean Burleith or 33rd and Prospect, but rather at home, with parents, more than an hour away by car or public transportation.  UNSW students, particularly Australian ones, have a different perspective on uni because not everyone eats, sleeps, and breathes in the campus environment; a larger part of life exists elsewhere.  The pros and cons of attending class look different when detailed presentation slides are available online and it might take an hour to get to uni.  Some students I talked to also had significant part-time jobs, and for them, going to class more often meant going to work less often.

Though the students may be more relaxed, lecturers and tutors at UNSW have high academic standards.  The grading system differs from the system in the U.S., making it uncommon to receive a mark in the 90s.  At UNSW, 50% is the minimum mark required to pass.  A mark between 50 and 64 is a Pass (P), between 65 and 74 is a Credit (C), between 75 and 84 is a Distinction (D), and 85 or above is a High Distinction (HD).

My classes are over, but I still have three final exams to take during the second week in November.  From what I can tell, the exam process at UNSW won’t differ much from the process at Georgetown, except that one of my tests is off-campus… at the Randwick Racecourse.


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