University of Melbourne Magazine

From Horace to the digital age

  • The University’s motto, Postera crescam laude, often translated as “I shall grow in the esteem of future generations”, is taken from an ode of Horace, the Latin poet, who in around 23 BC prophesied his own fame would endure through his poetry.

    “I have finished a monument more lasting than bronze, more lofty than the regal structure of the pyramids, one which neither corroding rain nor the ungovernable North Wind can ever destroy, nor the countless series of the years, nor the flight of time.

    “I shall not wholly die, and a large part of me will elude the Goddess of Death. I shall continue to grow, fresh with the praise of posterity …”

    While Horace’s words are not humble, his treatise proved correct. It is a reminder that a well-executed body of work can prevail for generations.

    One hundred and sixty years since the University’s founders adopted the motto, the prophecy of Melbourne’s growth and esteem is being fulfilled. For a successful institution, however, there is the risk of hubris. Self-praise does not bring further accomplishment.

    The aim of a new discussion paper distributed to the University community this year, Growing Esteem 2014, is not to revisit things the University has done well, but to ask how it can continue to grow in esteem. The injunction to improve remains, as ever, the imperative.

    In two earlier documents, Growing Esteem 2005 and Growing Esteem 2010, the University set a strategic agenda that this year’s discussion paper takes for granted. The intention now is not to revisit our excellent reforms of recent years. Our task now is to complete the vision, while being prepared to address the needs of a changing world.

    There is no destination for a university, no landing point. Our tasks repeat, as we offer knowledge, learning and engagement to each new generation. Mission is shaped by present circumstances, but profoundly attached to a long tradition.

    Over the past decade, the University of Melbourne has made choices about how best to serve its many communities. We have adopted a curriculum that stresses breadth of learning at undergraduate level, and a graduate approach to professional education.

    The institution has expanded dramatically its research reach, and given voice to engagement. It has deployed new technologies to speak with an international audience. Nearly half a million people around the globe have enrolled in online courses offered by Melbourne.

    The University of Melbourne is performing strongly, but faces a number of strategic challenges unparalleled in the higher education sector. Experts have described these challenges as “deep, radical and urgent transformations”.

    The most significant challenge is the online ‘evolution’. Digital technologies are transforming the way education is delivered, accessed and supported. With the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and resources such as the Khan Academy, TED talks, and Google search, university lecturers and libraries no longer hold a monopoly on knowledge. The rate at which we create knowledge is unmatched and far beyond the capacity of universities alone to corral and to organise.

    Digital technologies and the ubiquity of knowledge have particular implications for students and learning. With the prevalence of wholly online and blended learning (formal programs in which students learn in part through online delivery of content), alternative economic models for tertiary delivery are likely to emerge. Universities must innovate to meet student demand for technology-enabled learning.

    As the cost of research infrastructure escalates, fewer universities can manage large-scale research agendas alone. Collaboration and international partnerships now drive highly cited research. Precincts – which bring together industry, government and researchers to address global problems – have become a source of competitive advantage, placing some universities in a position to contribute more directly to prosperity in their cities.