As the peak of summer grows closer, visions of Bay Dreams and R&V become a little more clear. However, no degree of sunburn or #summervibes can distract from the most important question of the festive season: ‘What effect has the new Labour government had on the proposed University of Waikato Medical School?’ We spoke to the VC to get a much needed update.
Nexus: When we last spoke you seemed reasonably confident of the Medical School Proposal, only for Otago and Auckland to stick their stupid noses into it and Jonathan Coleman to kind of refuse to make a decision. What does the landscape look like now?
NQ: Well it wasn’t so much Jonathan Coleman, even though he is an influential player, but the government did make a decision – it’s just the decision was to have a process next year where they would make a choice about a third medical school. So what the National government decided is that there is going to be a third medical school, it’s just that they allowed the possibility that Auckland and Otago could put up a joint bid to have that third medical school rather than us. So that was a government decision that was supported by all the work the civil service had done on our proposal. So what we’re waiting to find out, and may not find out until early next year, is whether the new government is going to continue with that plan, but we’re fortunate that the situation is at least the default process the previous government set up to roll on.
Nexus: Do you think the Labour government will have any impact on the proposed Med School, especially with New Zealand First signalling support for it?
NQ: They could decide they don’t want to do it and they could take a different approach. I really just don’t know, at the moment they’re very busy with their 100 day plan so there really won't be the opportunity to raise it with the relevant ministers until probably February or March next year. It won't be until we come back next year that we really have any information about what is likely to happen. But it’s certainly not a dead duck.
Nexus: Will you be giving the Prime Minister the alumni sales pitch?
NQ: Of course.
Nexus: How is the pledged funding going for the project? When last we spoke Sir Owen Glenn was putting up some money but in fairness he said that with the Warriors and disappeared after a year.
NQ: His commitment still stands, however other people have certainly expressed interest. The problem is, for us to crystallise that interest it requires the government to make a decision because people are reluctant to go through the process of applications for major philanthropic funding just for a hypothetical event. It will be much easier to advance those discussions about support for the school once we know for sure that it’s going to happen.
Nexus: Can we ask you some more practical questions about how it would work?
Nexus: Where would the physical placement of the Med School be on campus? What are the potential options?
NQ: Because the medical school is graduate entry only, and once the students get into it they’re only studying medicine and not anything else, it’s quite likely we would want a location next to the hospital rather than here in Hillcrest. The reason is that a lot of the staff who are teaching in it will also be working part time at the Waikato Hospital, Braemar or Southern Cross etc. The proposal also envisaged some sharing of facilities such as simulation suites with the DHB, so I think the most likely location is at the Hospital – but again, until we actually get a green light and have to make a decision, this could change.
Nexus: Will we know when would construction commence and when is it planned to be finished and functional?
NQ: No, it depends entirely on when we get the decision. However, both to construct a medical school building and for all the other things like accreditation, hiring of the staff etc, it’s about a two and a half year process to get setup before we can take students.
Nexus: How does this ‘postgraduate’ system work? How is the 7 years of a typical med school squeezed into just 4? Does the postgraduate system only apply to Science/Engineering/Sport Science students or is it open across the board?NQ: The relevant comparison is with the 5 years that it takes at Auckland and the 4 years we’re talking about. So if you go to Auckland you do first year health sciences and then assuming you’re selected into medical school you do another 5 years after that so it’s 6 years in total, 5 of which are medicine. So what we’re proposing is a 3 year degree first and then 4 years of study in medicine. So our students would’ve studied for 7 years in total, but only 4 of those are in medicine whereas it’s 5 at Auckland or Otago. But what tends to happen is the graduate entry only programmes often use a different sort of curriculum, so at Auckland or Otago the curriculum is more like an undergraduate curriculum – the first 2 years are a lot of lectures – whereas here what we’re proposing is that there’d be some lectures in the first year of medicine but then after that you quickly get into a much more problem-based learning approach. And that means since the students are more mature learners having done a degree first they can acquire a lot more information quickly. So the differences are not that great, it’s just that having a three year degree first would be the standard route and minimum route for us. Whereas for Auckland and Otago most of their students are selected after first year health sciences. You could study whatever you want, and for students who haven’t done any biomedical science we would probably be running an intensive summer program for those students to acquire sufficient knowledge of biomedical sciences so they could manage.