A week after the Four Corners allegations after-shocks rumble: Murdoch U chancellor David Flanagan was on ABC Perth radio with Geoff Hutchison the other night, defending the university against allegations that international students are admitted with inadequate English. He worked with what he had on student literacy, but he did not shut down fears that staff who spoke to Four Corners could suffer. And if he hoped interest in the issue is over he will be disappointed – TEQSA is now involved.
The standards Murdoch U sets for English-language entry: Mr Flanagan was adamant, “we haven’t done anything that is not standard,” “there has not been a person admitted who doesn’t have an English standard score of six across the four tests.”
By “standard” Mr Flanagan means what universities require from international applicants on the IELT, on which Murdoch U requires an average score of six across all categories (listening, reading, writing and speaking). The university says the same, telling CMM that, “in determining the national standards, we look at all Australian universities.”
Good-o, except that IELTS six is by no means universally assumed sufficient for postgrad study. The other WA public universities, require 6.5, as do, for starters, Murdoch U’s fellow members of the Innovative Research Universities group, La Trobe U, Western Sydney U and Griffith U. So do University of Queensland, University of Adelaide and Monash U. Murdoch U also requires 6.5 or higher for eight masters and grad dips.
Staff who spoke out: Hutchison asked Mr Flanagan if he would guarantee the jobs of Murdoch U academics who spoke to Four Corners for its programme last Monday. The chancellor didn’t. “I’m not focused on any sort of disciplinary action or whatever for those staff,” he said, but that’s because, as chancellor, he is “the wrong person to ask that question.”
Hutchison asked him again, and Mr Flanagan replied; “you’re speaking to the wrong person in relation to those people and I’m not contemplating anything of the order of that.” Chancellors do not hire and fire but Mr Flanagan could have relayed VC Eeva Leinonen’s intention. As National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes and WA division secretary Jonathan Hallett put it in a letter to Mr Flanagan and Professor Leinonen, “the protection of whistleblowers is a serious public issue that goes to the heart of accountability of public institutions such as Murdoch.” They also demanded a, “clear and unequivocal written commitment from you, as a matter of urgency, that no action will be taken against employees who provided information (to Four Corners).”
What happens next: Mr Flanagan said he did not know if the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency had been in touch with the university after Four Corners. It has. “Senior TEQSA Officers spoke with the vice chancellor of Murdoch University following the Four Corners program,” the agency advises.
They will be in touch a bunch more. Murdoch U is up for renewal of registration next year and must start discussions with agency in the next couple of months. One issue the process involves is whether a university meets the minimum evidence requirements or whether TEQSA decides it needs to “extend” the “scope of assessment.”
An example of where an extended assessment might be need is where;
“issues relating to academic standards have been identified (including for example English language proficiency of students or graduates), it may be necessary to seek evidence beyond the core standards.”