Grattan Institute | 21 July 2013
The Commonwealth Government should create teaching- focused positions in universities as part of a national effort to raise the quality of teaching in higher education, a new Grattan Institute report proposes.
Taking university teaching seriously argues that as higher education enrolments expand toward 40% of young people, much more attention needs to be given to how students learn.
According to the report, student surveys suggest that Australian students rate the quality of university teaching less highly than do their American counterparts. Australians rarely report being pushed to do their best work, are often not actively participating in classes, and have little interaction with academic staff outside of class.
Grattan Institute higher education program director Andrew Norton says:
When about a quarter of students going to university on lower entry scores never complete their degrees, the time, talent and money of a large group of people are going to waste. One problem is that our academic culture is narrowly focused on excellence in research. Australian academics are usually appointed for their subject expertise not their teaching skills, and many of them prefer research to teaching.
Grattan Institute research has found that the conventional view in Australian universities that better research led to better teaching is not borne out by the evidence. Students in high-research environments are no more likely to report satisfaction with teaching than students in low-research environments.
The report proposes a cost-neutral program to create 2500 new jobs over the next six years in order to double the number of teaching- focused positions in Australian universities. Universities would compete for the positions, and only 12 would receive them, in order to create a critical mass within those institutions to raise the profile and quality of teaching.
Norton says that the aim is to create a circuit-breaker to the institutional culture of focusing on research and begin to spread a culture of top-quality teaching right across Australia’s higher education system.
Andrew Norton is the director of the higher education program at the Grattan Institute, an independent think tank “dedicated to developing high quality public policy for Australia’s future.” Norton has worked as a policy adviser to the vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne and as a research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies. He has written widely on higher education, and in the late 1990s was higher education adviser to the then federal education minister, Dr David Kemp.