Understanding the Campus Context

Tertiary campuses today can be likened to small towns, with large, transient, and multicultural populations of students and relatively stable groups of staff in the Faculties, Schools, and Departments that make up the academic context of the tertiary organization.

Their work is directed by the University Council and its associated network of senior administrative staff. For example, Monash University’s Clayton campus has around 24,000 students and around 6,000 full-time and fractional staff.

Each University's strategic policy documents outline its long-term objectives as an educational institution. They refer to alliances and contacts with the wider community in the University precinct, including organizations that support its higher education teaching and research. Also, the spiritual support from local faith communities is increasingly recognized as a resource for students and staff. These policies belie a complexity of networks - both formal and informal – that direct the shape and course of each tertiary community via all the avenues of formal and informal discourse occurring on campus.

Chaplaincy in this 'town'/campus context therefore has to begin with the notion of networking, since the "social mapping" of the University begins with the various groups of people that make up its community. These groupings include:

  • Younger VCE - entry undergraduate students ~ around 50% of the student population for many campuses.

  • Older/mature-age (23+ yrs) undergraduate students ~ around 40% of the student population for many campuses.

  • Postgraduate students (honours, masters, doctoral/post-doctoral) ~ around 10% of the total student population for many higher education campuses.

  • Academic staff in each centre/department/school/faculty. Administrative staff within each faculty, in the University administration/secretariat; and in Student Services.

  • Student Services Support personnel: health; welfare; housing; financial assistance; counselling; chaplaincy; child care; language and learning; who form the Student/Community Services resource group.

  • On some larger campuses the total staff population can total 3000-5000 full-time and fractional staff.

  • Student organisations within the Student Union/Student Association. These include all of the special interest groups, e.g. political clubs and societies, religious groups, cultural and sporting groups - all of which have to be registered as accredited student groups on campus.

  • Student religious groups: the mix on any one campus includes various Christian groups; Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Baha'i, Hindu groups; and "alternative spiritualities". In some cases, groups have a staff worker or other leader who advises the student group, and who is employed by a para-church/religious group off-campus for this purpose. Also, individual students and groups will often have some connections with local faith communities/spiritual centres.

It is clear from this listing that chaplains are often dealing with a diverse range of ages, interests, cultures, and issues that comprise the 'mix' of educational and communal development and experiences at the tertiary level. No one chaplain can hope to cover all groups or all activities of the University when networking in relation to their chaplaincy goals. For this reason, an ecumenical – and in some cases – multi-faith team of chaplains is recommended where possible, for each campus. This emphasis will bear consideration by faith bodies when planning their future chaplaincy appointments for a particular campus. Information about current staffing levels for chaplaincy on each campus are provided on the list of chaplains on tertiary campuses in Victoria.

While some chaplains might work largely with young undergraduates from their particular faith context, this is only one role for chaplaincy. In general, Universities hope that all appointed chaplains will be available for consultation by students and staff from all backgrounds. In practice this invariably means that chaplains will refer students and staff on to other chaplains, religious groups, and support personnel in the University where necessary – and also off-campus.

In each appointment, changes in work practice/ goals will routinely occur every few years, given the pace of change and complexity in the tertiary sector - and which no one chaplain is able to address. For this reason, where there is a chaplaincy team its members will need to negotiate what they might achieve together beyond their individual work roles, in order to offer a relevant range of supports to the campus community.