JAPAN’s Nihon University has unveiled a $37-million plan to build a language studies and student exchange campus at the historic former Newcastle courthouse site that it bought in December 2016 for $6.6 million.
Documents lodged with the NSW Department of Planning reveal the privately owned university plans to demolish the modernist buildings flanking the original, heritage-protected, courthouse, and replace them with a pair of symmetrical, Japanese-influenced buildings that would “represent the continuous flow of knowledge” and not “fight with” the old courthouse.
The new west wing would be an education building.
The new east wing would be a residential space with beds for 102 students and seven professors or long-staying students.
The 1890s building would be for campus administration and management, as well as a conference centre.
The plans say the number of “required” car parking spaces for the site is 111, but the architects are proposing 20 car spaces, one motorcycle space and 22 bicycle places.
The campus would operate around the clock and have 10 teaching staff and 12 administrators.
Its main purpose would be as a “centre of international language exchange programs” for Nihon University Group students (including junior high school) staying for one to two months to “experience international living and practise English on site”.
Importantly, the documents also reveal that Nihon intends to forge close links with the University of Newcastle.
“Nihon University's vision for the new campus is to serve as a hub for international mutual exchange programs between Australian and Japanese students promoting and understanding Japanese culture,” one document lodged with Planning NSW says.
“This is supported by a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Newcastle for future exchange programs in February 2018, and though details are yet to be finalised, numerous programs shall be organised in the future.
“Most importantly, the campus will provide students the opportunity to develop law skills within a courthouse environment.”
University of Newcastle Pro Vice-Chancellor for International and Advancement, Dary Milani, said the two institutions had study agreements and research collaborations were being explored.
“We’re happy to be working with Nihon University to enable study abroad experiences for students from the University of Newcastle to go to Japan and for Nihon University students to come to Newcastle,” Mr Milani said.
Apart from the links with Newcastle university, the vision unveiled in the Nihon documents appears to be largely in line with the proposal explained to the Newcastle Herald in March 2017, three months after the Japanese institution secured the site.
Documents show Nihon’s planners had been corresponding since August this year with various Hunter authorities including Newcastle City Council under the belief the project could be approved under “local” planning regimes.
But an increase in its likely cost from $29 million to $37 million (excluding GST and a range of other potential costs) meant it was now a “state significant development” to be handled by the NSW government.
Most of the available documentation relates to construction and design rather than the university itself but Nihon, which describes itself as Japan’s biggest private university, says it decided to open its first overseas campus as a “commemorative activity” to mark its 130th anniversary, which falls on October 4 next year.
Nihon describes its proposed exchange program with University of Newcastle as “the efficient re-use of the old courthouse”.
“It is also intended to open the doors to students of Newcastle University to experience mock-up trials, debating with visiting Japanese students, cross learn the judicial systems of both countries in the environment of the courthouse,” Nihon says.
Nihon University would donate more than 5000 books on Japanese criminology and law, for the use of Newcastle university researchers, and some lectures would be open to the public as part of the university’s “social contribution”.
“Such open lectures could be on judicial and law matters but also on cultural issues such as tea ceremony, calligraphy, flower arrangement, and other culture oriented activities.”
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