Bursting the Parkville Bubble

4 March 2019

Many forget that the University of Melbourne doesn’t begin and end at Parkville. In fact, its community is far-reaching and extends to satellite campuses, such as Southbank and even Dookie, across Victoria. It has been acknowledged that there is a “Parkville bubble”, where borders have been drawn and campuses have become more insulated.

With most student services and events located at the Parkville campus, the student experience (or the lack thereof) at the satellite campuses is often overlooked in favour of their bigger Parkville counterpart. As such, there is talk of a “Parkville bubble” when it comes to the University’s quality of life.

These problems have been acknowledged by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) President Molly Willmott. Speaking to Farrago, she acknowledged that a “Parkville bubble” does exist, and she aims to be more “proactive” in her term as head of the Student Union.

“It is really easy to stay at Parkville,” Molly Willmott said, “especially if everything, including UMSU offices, are here.”

The comparable ease of studying at Parkville and a different set of expectations may be the cause of allegedly high dropout rates at the Southbank campus. These dropout rates could be reduced if more active intervention was undertaken by UMSU, said Willmott. Farrago tried reaching out to the VCA Student Coordinator Lily Ekins but she did not respond to a request for comment in time.

However, the imbalance in student engagement does not stop at the proximity of the campuses. It also extends to issues surrounding the resources and infrastructure relevant to Southbank students. Some of these pressing issues have unfortunately been neglected in favour of the single-minded focus on Parkville, with Willmott commenting that food initiatives were delayed for implementation at Southbank.

“[We could use a] proper canteen/eatery,” said Justin Tan, a student at the Southbank campus. “But hey, the building’s under renovation and they’re providing food trucks and a cafe, so it’s something. We can always walk to nearby places for food anyway,” Tan said.

Tan believes that the lack of awareness may also stem from an indifference towards UMSU.

“I don’t personally know anyone who participates in the student union stuff. The only time I saw an [UMSU] person was when the elections were going on. I think it should be called a ‘VCA Bubble’ rather than a ‘Parkville’ one since the main campus is the Parkville campus. We don’t need to interact with the UMSU much, and even more so considering the distance.”

Whilst Tan’s perception lies upon the onus that Southbank students don’t “need” UMSU, recent graduate Cheryl Ho believes that the Parkville bubble is really due to logistical issues.

“Because there are so many more students at the Parkville campus we often get left out on a lot of events/gigs and opportunities. And lots of facilities as well.”

Back at Parkville, Willmott concedes the Parkville bubble is “an ‘us’ problem rather than a ‘them’ problem”, with UMSU historically and currently based in Parkville. This is compounded by the mentioned indifference towards UMSU and its services. As such, the lack of student interest across University of Melbourne campuses is the “biggest threat to the union,” says Willmott.

However, with time, frustration towards the lack of resources might be placated when renovations are eventually completed. The Southbank campus that hosts the VCA and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music is undergoing a facelift with new facilities set to open at some point in the next few years. In addition, VCA students have their own Stop 1 centre for any student enquiries.

Students have also expressed their views on the efforts being made by the University staff with repeated mentions by the students interviewed about the work of Senior Enrichment Officer Dove Rengger-Thorpe.

Ultimately, the “Parkville bubble” can’t be popped physically, but through effective cross-collaboration between the campuses, its communities and the administration.

Willmott identifies that it is a University-wide problem, with campuses being highly insulated the “crux of the issue”.

“We represent every University of Melbourne student,” Willmott asserts. “Satellite campuses have gotten a lot louder with Southbank students being more active and Parkville’s starting to listen properly now.”

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