19 December 2001

The University of Queensland will celebrate an important milestone in its 91-year history of research and scholarship today, December 19.

Chancellor Sir Llewellyn Edwards will confer the University`s 5000th Doctor of Philosophy degree at a graduation ceremony at Mayne Hall, St Lucia, at 4pm.

A special presentation will be made to Dr Michele Foster, of Ashgrove, who completed what is believed to be the first Australian study on access and equity issues surrounding the rehabilitation of patients following traumatic brain injury (TBI).

"I`m really surprised," Dr Foster said. "But after the all-consuming process of completing a PhD, it will be nice to have a little extra fuss made.

"It`s good to know that so many people have taken the opportunity to advance their knowledge."

Director of UQ`s Graduate School and Dean of Postgraduate Students, Professor Alan Lawson, said The University of Queensland, the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne were the nation`s three leading providers of PhD graduates. UQ and Sydney both graduate about 340 PhDs a year, almost one a day.

"UQ, Sydney and Melbourne each account for about 10 percent of the national number of PhDs awarded in Australia last year," Professor Lawson said. "We currently have more than 2700 PhD students among our 6500 postgraduate population.

"The University envisages that 25 percent of all UQ students will be studying for a postgraduate qualification within the next few years. We`ve had a rush of enquiries for non-research postgraduate courses for 2002 since the introduction of the Postgraduate Education Loans Scheme (PELS)."

Professor Lawson said the University had graduated more than 140,000 people since its foundation in 1910, with its first PhD awarded in 1952 to the late William Graham Henderson Maxwell.

Dr Maxwell and other early PhD recipients attended a ceremony in 1982 to mark the award of the University`s 1000th Doctor of Philosophy degree to Dr Martyn Peart, a former lecturer at UQ Gatton.

The 5000th PhD award recipient, Dr Foster, is a research fellow in the Centre of National Research on Disability and Rehabilitation Medicine (CONROD) in UQ`s Department of Medicine.

Her study aimed to understand factors influencing the type of rehabilitation people with TBI received after leaving hospitals in Brisbane and a Queensland provincial city. She said it was well known that inequalities to access to rehabilitation existed following traumatic brain injuries, incurred as a result of car accidents, assaults and falls. To address these issues in Queensland, Dr Foster said a clearer picture of referral patterns and the factors influencing referral, were required.

"My research confirmed previous findings that suggested that where a person is treated is extremely important in terms of what types of follow-up care are forthcoming," she said.

"Treatment at a hospital with an on-site brain injury rehabilitation unit increased the likelihood of referral to in-patient rehabilitation. Involvement of a rehabilitation physician was also important in explaining referral to in-patient rehabilitation.

"Other factors included the recommendations by acute care practitioners. Allied health professionals were particularly important in advocating for referral to rehabilitation, including outpatient services. Practitioners considered physical and cognitive factors, in combination with other factors such as age and a range of social factors when making decisions.

Dr Foster said the need for further research was apparent as survival rates from traumatic injury were increasing and concomitantly, the need for rehabilitation.

Dr Foster, who was awarded a UQ Graduate School Research Travel Award to pursue her studies, graduated Bachelor of Social Work from UQ in 1991 and was a University Medallist. She received an Australian Postgraduate Award to pursue her PhD studies.

She was supervised by Dr Cheryl Tilse, of the School of Social Work and Social Policy. Associate supervisors were UQ Executive Dean of Social and Behavioural Sciences Professor Linda Rosenman, who will introduce candidates at today`s ceremony, and Dr Jennifer Fleming, of UQ`s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Media: For further information, contact Dr Michele Foster (telephone 07 3366 1534), Professor Alan Lawson (telephone 07 3365 3477) or Jan King at UQ Communications (mobile 0413 601 248).