Students entering Victoria University from next month will be taking part in one of the biggest teaching shake-ups in the university’s history.

VU will be the first university in Australia to adopt a new first-year model that throws out multiple semester-long courses in favour of classes taken as discrete four-week blocks.

Students will complete each unit, including assessments, before moving to the next.

George Iwama, president and vice-chancellor of Canada’s Quest University, told Star Weekly the model has been operating with great success at Quest for a decade.

Visiting Melbourne to share his insights with VU, he said the students at Quest are the happiest of any university he has been at across decades of teaching.

Retention rates are also well above 90 per cent – a stark contrast to VU’s high first-year attrition rate.

“It is capable of allowing in-depth and intensive study of a subject,” he said.

“If you keep the classes small, say 15 to 20 people, students can gain a bit of confidence.”

Victoria University has attracted criticism for cutting staff levels and the number of courses offered in introducing the model, but has defended its decision as necessary for meeting the changing needs of future students.

It argues the model will mean less stress for students as they focus on one unit at a time before starting the next and that smaller classes will allow students to receive more one-on-one time.

Mr Iwama said the model works best when academic staff take a close interest in the students they are leading and ensure any problems they are having are identified early on, rather than running a whole semester without being addressed.

He said VU’s decision to convert its entire first year was bold but had the potential to give nervous new students a more positive experience than throwing them in the deep end without adequate support.