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Defining and monitoring academic standards: A contentious discussion for the higher education sectorRichard James Australian Council of Deans of ICT 24 July 2009
The new national focus on academic standardsFrom Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System …“Our higher education institutions are experienced in measuring their research performance. They will become equally good at demonstrating students’academic performance and documenting what students learn, know and can do. Building on Australia’s reputation in tertiary education, this Budget ushers in a new era for quality, with the establishment of a national body for regulation and quality assurance. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) will enhance the overall quality of the Australian higher education system. It will accredit providers, evaluate the performance of institutions and programs, encourage best practice, simplify current regulatory arrangements and provide greater national consistency. TEQSA will take the lead in coordinating this work and establishing objective and comparative benchmarks of quality and performance. The agency will collect richer data and monitor performance in areas such as student selection, retention and exit standards, and graduate employment. It will evaluate the performance of universities and other higher education providers every five years, or whenever there is evidence that standards are not being met. If problems are identified, TEQSA will be able to recommend sanctions up to and including withdrawing the right to use the title of ‘University’. www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
How will an institution know its degrees are good degrees? (or, how will an institution know how good its degrees are?) How will others know?What might be the best ‘touchstones’ and most effective processes for making academic standards explicit in an increasingly diverse tertiary sector?With national targets for participation expansion and equity, the bachelors degree, in particular, seems set to be stretched in many directions. What will make a bachelors degree a bachelors degree? www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
Some perspectives on standards … www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
Some views: The term ‘standards’ is often used indiscriminantly in universities.AUQA’s audit cycles have focused on QA processes rather than identifying standards. It is important to distinguish ‘standards of entry’ and ‘standards of provision’ from ‘standards of student academic achievement’. The principal locus for defining/monitoring standards is the course (rather than the institution), but the responsibility for standards lies with institutions.Discipline communities should be the locus of defining and monitoring standards.‘Academic achievement standards’ require external reference points of some kind. www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
Notional curriculum/standards spectrum Diversification/specialisation of curricula Features: Institutional autonomy in standard setting Comparability a low priority, if a priority at all Core underpinning belief: “Relax, the market will weed out problems” Standardisation of curriculum Features: External standard setting Comparability vital Core underpinning belief: “Institutions just can’t be trusted to protect standards” www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
Notional curriculum/standards spectrum Diversification/specialisation Features: Institutional autonomy in standard setting Comparability a low priority, if a priority at all Core underpinning belief: “Relax, the market will weed out problems” Standardisation Features: External standard setting Comparability vital Core underpinning belief: “Institutions can’t be trusted to protect standards” Much pressure on us in this direction, of course (eg TEQSA) But institutional ‘market priorities’ driving us this way too www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
Dynamic 1: Market pressures for distinctiveness • University curricula are diversifying across a range of dimensions: • duration • modes of study • liberal vs professional • disciplinary specialisation; multiple disciplines; ‘interdisciplinary’ • research involvement • work integrated learning • and more! • This is differentiating both cognate programs, and entire institutions. • It is involving not only the creation of new programs and the ‘tweaking’ of existing courses, but also the wholesale renewal of institutional offerings. www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
Dynamic 2: A new AQF? The proposal for revision of the Australian Qualifications Framework, which includes: • Replacement of the current sectoral divisions with a single set of award levels (removing some of the current ‘ambiguity’ around diplomas and certificates; focusing the qualification level on the award itself, and away from the conferring institution) • Definitions of awards based on explicit learning outcome statements and (notional) learning time/volume measures (with each award level including a description of knowledge, skills and competencies) and the following statements (emphases added): “… the strengthened objectives for the AQF must enable and facilitate: - development and accreditation of nationally recognised and consistent qualifications …. - national and international alignment of qualifications” (p8) www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
Dynamic 3: Common reporting Implementation of the Australian Higher Education Graduation Statement, which includes: • A description of the award (specific to the award, not just the level as in the AQF; generalisable to all graduates, not the individual) • Details of each graduate’s academic achievements (including grades and GPA or other results for comparative purposes, if appropriate; ability to include additional information on particular achievements, such as workplace learning or independent study) • Description of the system, including the AQF www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
Dynamic 4: Ongoing national concern about standards For example:Bradley Review TEQSA Concern for credibility of ‘Brand Australia’ www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
On the table is an AUQA discussion paper for setting and monitoring academic achievement standards. • a focus on student achievement (rather than teaching inputs or processes) • a central role for national disciplinary groups (in specifying standards) • nationalstatements of learning outcomes(both generic and discipline-based) • descriptions or exemplars of achievement levels (both of minimum thresholds and graded achievement) • assessment measurement options (from local and various, to external and standardised) • reporting of achievement standards (for individual graduates, and for program and institutional comparison) www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au
So many questions! • Is a focus on academic achievement standards sensible and appropriate? • Can standards be monitored without stifling diversity? • Can processes be minimally cumbersome? • Where do interdisciplinary programs fit? • What approach would you take if you were the TEQSA CEO? • What does it mean for you as a Dean? • What does it mean for your as a teaching academic? • What does it mean for prospective and current students? www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au