"First Year Experience"

Professor Geoff Wilson
Past Vice-Chancellor, Deakin University


Professor Geoff Wilson is currently Vice-Chancellor and President of Deakin University. He is an internationally respected scientist and experienced academic who was Vice-Chancellor of Central Queensland University prior to his appointment at Deakin in April 1996.

Professor Wilson was Vice-President, Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee from 1996 to 1997, a Member of the Board of Directors from 1994 to 1999 and is currently Chair of the Standing Committee on Research. He was a member of the Australian Research Council from 1988 to 1991, Deputy Chair of the Council from 1989 to 1990 and the inaugural chair of the Council’s Research Grants Committee.

Professor Wilson has had a distinguished career as a physicist with more than 100 published papers in international scientific journals. He is a Member of the Australian College of Education and a Director of the Australian Institute of Management.

Synopsis of keynote

Various studies have indicated that secondary school final scores, such as the Victorian ENTER score, are a very poor indicator of successful completion of university degree courses. On the other hand first year completion is, not surprisingly, a good indicator. There is obviously a misfit in the transition from secondary studies to university.

Universities are now putting much effort into determining the main causes of this misfit and attempting to address them. Components being addressed include study techniques, communication by staff of their expectations of students, and student lifestyles, finances and social needs. The aim should be to do much more than just to address attrition rates.

Whereas in the past these causes have often been approached piecemeal it is now obvious that we need to take a much more holistic approach, with strong student input on the remedies including the support of the student associations. Good mentoring, counselling and welfare services are all necessary but the holistic approach is essential to prevent new students from becoming disoriented and to ensure that they experience a strong sense of belonging to the university.

We also need to do more to determine the transitional needs of mature age students. With the present trend for both young and mature age students to spend much time off-campus in part-time employment, there is now a particularly daunting challenge to improve the first year university experience and to ensure that they do gain a sense of belonging.

Various mechanisms for improving the first year experiences will be discussed.

Full paper in Microsoft Word

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