Plus five reasons why teaching does not drive student outcomes

Innovation aggravation

Policy people are scrambling to work out what government will want in the imminent innovation statement. And some are squabbling. CMM hears advisors to Science Minister Karen Andrews and Innovation Minister Wyatt Roy are divided over whether there should be a bucket of money for industry-university research or incentives for innovators, presumably including a tax relief scheme for skateboards. Interesting to see what Friday’s meeting on innovation tax policy (below) comes up with.

ANU Sept 15

Careful with cash

The Department of Education annual report for 2014-15, out now, is sadly short on scandal to report, there is actually evidence of careful management of public money. For example, creating the QILT only appears to have required $4.6m, plus $350 000 on market research. If that is the creation cost of the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching the country got a good deal indeed for a performance measure that can really assist students wondering where to study. But where is the funding for Nous Consultant (and former DoE official) Robert Griew who sounded out the state of the Senate on deregulation for former minister Christopher Pyne? CMM suspects any payment that fell due last financial year is buried in the $8.8m for “higher education special projects,” which surely also includes the terrible “information campaign” for the Pyne deregulation package. Yes, he could have inquired of officials but they are not always informative. Just ask Canadian higher education policy polymath Alex Usher, whose new paper on elite university performance includes stats on Australia, (CMM yesterday) but not as many as he needed. “The Department of Education website informs visitors that earlier data is available on request, but messages requesting more data went unanswered,” he writes.

Nothing to sneeze at

If Stephen Soderberg’s movie Contagion (2011) struck you as fun UNSW has a course for you – bioterrorism and health intelligence. It’s offered as a five-day programme in December, which will “critically evaluate the bioterrorism threats to population health and highlight the new systems and approaches needed.” It is also provided as part of a public health masters, targeting “first-responders, analysts or policy makers from health, emergency management, law enforcement, military.”

The YouTube course advertisement is also worth a look – great creative.

Wollongong wears the QILT

Despite all the criticism of league tables and their construction, the academic community should take them seriously for three reasons (governments do, prospective students do and governing bodies do) University of Wollongong VC Paul Wellings wrote in 2010.

His university certainly does, claiming the feds’ Quality Indicators for Leaning and Teaching “ranks UoW as the best overall university in Australia. In percentage terms across the key 12 categories, UoW has topped the country. Of the 12 NSW/ACT universities, UOW tops 7 out of 12 categories – 4 more than any other university. Of the 14 study areas on offer at UoW, 5 are rated as the best in the country and a further 5 as the best in NSW/ACT.” CMM is braced for responses from all the other QILT rated “best overall” universities.

ANU Sep 15 3

Success at CSU

It seems everybody at Charles Sturt is happy with the new three faculty structure at Charles Sturt U. VC Andy Vann says it will improve performance with fewer than four full time jobs to go (CMM Monday). And the National Tertiary Education Union says it all could be worse, indeed it would have been without its getting involved. Last night the union lifted parts of a dispute over the new structure following management agreeing to “a more consultative process with staff and the NTEU regarding the implementation process and the provision of information.”

“We will continue to advance the legitimate concerns of our members in meetings with management. We must remain vigilant and act to ensure that their interests continue to be protected,” NTEU branch president Dr David Ritchie said.

Sold on teaching

The University of Adelaide will imminently announce its new Education Academy. CMM hears membership is being pitched to people as an honour extended to excellent teachers who aren’t interested in research. There is talk of grants (for what, research on teaching?) and a promotions programme but campus cynics suggest these are mere blandishments to lure staff into teaching only roles with increased workloads.

Incentives to innovate

A meeting of research and development policy people in Sydney on Friday will discuss what the Feds can do to improve R&D tax incentives. According to a survivor of many applied research plans says the meeting needs to accomplish three things. First, come up with a definition of R&D that covers real risk and isn’t available to big business doing what they would anyway. Second, establish a way to fund R&D before it occurs, thus forcing applicants to actually explain, and then account for, what they intend to do. And finally find somebody who thinks the existing tax incentive is an efficient use of public money.

Accounting for teaching quality

Ian Kimber (ex TEQSA) now at the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education responds to an open letter by 169 UK academics opposing using student outcome metrics as a proxy for teaching quality. There is ample data to do it, he suggests; “if the brain-work is put in at an early stage, to really understand the complicated relationships between metrics and contextual elements and how to assess them, something straightforward, accessible and reliable can be devised.”

It’s an inevitable and interminable argument but it’s the five reasons why the academics oppose measuring teaching performance by student outcomes that are interesting.

First, they argue “social hierarchies” can shape outcomes more than teaching. Second, outcome measures may mean students do not take responsibility for their own learning. Third, a demand for continually improving outcomes will generate grade inflation. Fourth, education is about skills and personal qualities not just measurable outcomes. And finally, there is what is measured; “comparing the salaries of, say, primary school teachers and commercial lawyers says virtually nothing about the quality of the teaching which led to their employment, nor their respective contributions to society, and could potentially de-value subjects and disciplines where students are oriented towards less remunerative but socially important professions.”

Fair enough, CMM is sure many Australian academics will agree. But if teaching quality is not measured by these student outcomes then how should it be assessed. Unless of course, teachers prefer not being assessed at all.