Teaching-only universities on policy agenda

Teaching-only universities are on the policy agenda with the release of a federal government discussion paper. It sets the context for submissions to the review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards, to be undertaken by recently retired QUT vice chancellor Peter Coaldrake.

What this is about:  Professor Coaldrake is commissioned by Education Minister Dan Tehan who said in October, “ it is important the provider categories can accommodate changing practices in higher education and encourage choice of educational offerings to students, while continuing to provide the quality education the Australian community expects,” (CMM October 18 2018).

So, what’s on the agenda?: The Department of Education’s discussion paper suggests issues submissions should address, including whether existing standards that existing universities and other HE providers must meet are fit for purpose, what characteristics should define different categories of providers,” and most important, “Australia’s conceptualisation of a university”.

Teaching-only unis is what: “Australia has come to conceptualise universities as places for both teaching and research. These two fundamental features have become synonymous with the title ‘university’ and have contributed to the good reputation of Australia’s universities internationally for high quality teaching and research,” the DET paper states. It adds Australia is largely alone in defining what level of research is required – work in three broad fields and awarding higher degrees in them.

The review is set to consider alternatives to this.

“Should the requirement for universities to offer both undergraduate and postgraduate courses be relaxed, allowing freedom for a university to specialise in only undergraduate or only postgraduate courses, with or without research, as appropriate? Should specialised research institutes with a proven record become eligible to use the ‘university’ title and even offer postgraduate research-based qualifications? While this review presents an opportunity to explore all possible options, the implications of any change must be carefully weighed, particularly where change may have consequences for reputation and outcomes.”

What happens now: Is a bunch of work over the summer by elite universities who think they, plus their pals in the specialist institutes, should get all of a bigger national research budget and research-weak ones terrified of turning into teaching-colleges still badged as unis. As to the outcome, who knows what Professor Coaldrake will advise, or the Higher Education Standards Panel, which he reports to, will accept.

But don’t expect either side of politics to do anything about whatever Coaldrake recommends this side of the election. Submissions don’t close to March and we vote in May.



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