Above: Diane Carter, Executive Officer, the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre.
By Stephen Easton
Aged care workers from Tasmania, NSW and the ACT can now study dementia care at university free of charge, thanks to the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, which is based at the University of Tasmania (UTAS).
There will be no course fees for the first intake of 120 students into the Associate Degree in Dementia Care, which was designed for students to complete over two-and-a-half years while maintaining employment in community or residential aged care.
There will be no final exams for any of the units that make up the associate degree, either, and there is no previous education required.
Instead of exams, students will be assessed continuously throughout the course in many different ways, which could make the idea of tertiary study less intimidating, according to the Wicking Centre’s executive officer, Diana Carter.
“Because the UTAS Wicking Centre is doing ground-breaking research on dementia – both on what’s causing it and on improving service delivery – that evidence can be taken straight to the students to be put into practice,” Ms Carter said.
“So it’s really cutting-edge, forward-thinking stuff, not just what already happens around the world. It is really at the forefront of developing dementia services in Australia.”
The associate degree – a qualification which sits between a diploma and a bachelor’s degree – is limited to employees of aged care providers that belong to the Aged and Community Services Association of NSW & ACT, or Aged and Community Services Tasmania.
Ms Carter encouraged industry representatives to apply for the course at last Thursday night’s ACS NSW & ACT State Awards dinner, which was held during the association’s state conference, and many showed keen interest straight away, she said.
“The feedback from the conference was very positive,” she said. “I had at least 20 people unofficially sign up already… so I don’t think it’s going be a major task to enrol 120 students.
“It really is ‘first come, first served’, because we really do only have a maximum of 120 places to offer at this point.”
While the university’s senate was “fully backing” the course, she said, there was no guarantee that the funding to cover the fees would continue in the long term.
Students must have access to a computer with an internet connection, be able to commit 12 hours every week to studying during each 13-week semester, and they must be a native English speaker, or have an International English Language Testing Score (IELTS) of 6.0 or above (UTAS can provide some English language support).
They must also live ‘within commuting distance’ of a UTAS campus – which are located in Sydney, Hobart, Launceston or Burnie – although ‘commuting distance’ is open to interpretation, according to Ms Carter.
“Somebody at the dinner said he’s 600 kilometres away but he still really wants to do it, and he will make sure he comes to Sydney,” she said.
While the face-to-face sessions are important, the students will do nearly all of the course online, with support over the phone and via email. Initial 'support units' teach general skills in communication and using online tools, as well as an overview of dementia and a basic biological understanding of the nervous system.
“The earlier units will include three to five face-to-face days [in total], and it’s all about learning how to become a student in those first support units. It’s not going to be regular, weekly, on-campus teaching; there’s going to be lots of online learning. The more the students progress through the course, the less face-to-face and the more online learning there will be.”
Students can come from any level – from personal care workers to CEOs – and it is suggested that at least two staff members enrol from the same workplace, to make it easier for the new knowledge learnt by the students to be implemented.
Enrolments close in September and the course commences in November – but hurry, the 120 places could fill up very quickly.
Employees who wish to enrol in the associate degree should talk to their workplace manager first, then contact:
TASMANIA: Darren Mathewson, CEO, ACS Tasmania. Email email@example.com or phone 03 6231 3100
- NSW and ACT: Janet Glaser. Email JanetG@agedservices.asn.au or phone 02 8754 0400
Send all general questions about the course to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1800 982 600.