by MATT BOWER and PENNY VAN BERGEN
Quietly, all funding for the Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) has been cut from the Federal budget as from 2022. Funding for the national Learning and Teaching Repository (LTR) was also cut. This follows the 2016 abolition of the Office for Learning and Teaching (formerly the Carrick Institute), which provided grants and fellowships for educators to pursue evidence-based means of enhancing teaching quality and student learning experiences across the sector. Together these cuts end key mechanisms used to support and enhance quality university teaching for Australian students.
There is now no federal money to support high-quality innovations or encourage new learning and teaching initiatives in higher education.
Ongoing support for innovation and excellence is necessary for university teaching. This need is particularly acute in 2021, with unprecedented upheaval in HE brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and other policy forces. The abolition of the university teaching awards sends a clear signal about the government’s priorities, at a time when thousands of Higher Education jobs are being lost due to loss of international student income, steadily declining federal support per student, increased class sizes, and continuing tight border controls.
Those unfamiliar with the current state of play in universities might assume that university lecturers and tutors shouldn’t need encouragement to do a good job. Like their counterparts in the early childhood, primary, and secondary education sectors, much of university teachers’ dedication, commitment, long hours, and work above load is due to an intrinsic passion for what they do. The now abolished federal funding of $400,000 a year for the teaching awards ($600,000 with the LTR) was a low-cost way of demonstrating to staff, the sector, and the Australian community that a commitment to ever-improving teaching is valued. Critically, this now-abolished cost represented less than 0.001 per cent of the government budget for education, skills and employment.
By recognising excellence nationally, the AAUTs motivated university academics to contribute beyond their institution through the sharing of innovation, resources, good practice and provision of professional learning. They also encouraged individual educators to strive for teaching excellence by providing formal recognition at the highest level that teaching in universities, as well as research, is valued and rewarded in one’s career.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these awards catalysed important and necessary conversations at the individual, institutional, field-specific and national levels about what constitutes best pedagogical practice, and how we can get there. Grants for teaching projects and fellowships promoted major educational innovation, inter-university collaboration, and development of national programs to improve Higher Education. By removing these schemes, leaving no mechanisms to promote inter-university teaching excellence, the quality of education in the sector will undoubtedly suffer.
Professor Matt Bower, School of Education, Macquarie University [email protected] @mattgbower
Matt was a 2020 Australian Award for University Teaching Excellence recipient (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IMHV37pok8&t=2190s )
Associate Professor Penny Van Bergen, School of Education, Macquarie University [email protected] @penny_vb
Penny was awarded a 2012 OLT Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning and the 2018 Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence at Macquarie University