12 October 2012

Searching for the blockages in Australian Universities

The Vice Chancellors of some Australian universities have been using the public pressure for change in teaching and assessment practices, to make claims that the over arching regulatory and funding bodies that generally govern universities here, are stifling innovation in the teaching and assessment space. Most recently I've seen Jane Den Hollander Vice-Chancellor at Deakin University write as much to The Conversation. And I'm told Jim Barber Vice Chancellor of University of New England made similar complaints at Creating New Futures.

I'd like to find out exactly what Jane and Jim are referring to, if it's reasonable to say that such regulation is stifling innovation, or rather if what I've always thought the problem to be - that the premise and traditions of education, copy-cat administration, and narrow approaches to ICT, are the true-er reasons for lack of innovation. As Mark Smithers and Joyce Seitzinger say in their comments to Jane's article on The Conversation, we don't need more money for the sorts of changes that are apparently necessary, and that numerous prejudicial attitudes and narrow minded approaches to ICT in higher education point to a cultural problem.

When floating some old (in this head at least) ideas for alternative ways of teaching and assessmen, (2009-2012 ideas, and 2006-2009), I'm so-far pleasantly surprised that I haven't been met with outright hostility or dismissal here at La Trobe. Perhaps I've tempered my verbal delivery of such ideas, or perhaps SD is right in saying the time is right for floating such thinking.

In a recent interaction with someone well informed on the administrative processes at this university, I was asking how we might go about setting up a recognition of prior learning process, so we can explore ways of formally enrolling people when they complete a subject, rather than when they start. Might this be a way to report 100% completion rates? No one fails or is recorded as dropping out if they enrol when they know they will pass. Courses would need to adjust to loss-lead funding arrangements, and that will probably be a sticking point, but then again funds will come in as they normally do because most people will continue to enrol traditionally, and when people taking the flexible enrolment route do eventually enrol-at-completion, they bring in another form money. How could we structure teaching, assessment, administration and funding around this inversion of process toward more flexibility and diverse income streams? Might we introduce more granular forms of assessment services through badging while we're at it, offering access and value to people not interested in full degrees? Would it then follow as a logical next step, to offer access to online courses for free, as another loss leader, but fee for more personalised tuition services..?

I was directed to:
  1. The Higher Education Support Act 2003, Australasian Legal Information Institute
  2. Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011, Australasian Legal Information Institute
  3. Higher Education Policy, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
  4. Funding Programs, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
  5. The Advanced Standing, Articulation and Credit Transfer Policy, La Trobe University
  6. The Domestic Educational Partnership Policy, La Trobe University
So, it's in these laws, policies and funding arrangements that I hope to answer two questions:
  1. What exactly are the Vice Chancellors referring to when they talk about restrictive regulations? and/or
  2. What stands in the way of my ideas around inverted educational arrangements?
Have I missed a key document or consideration?

I've started a Diigo Group around these sorts of links, to use it as a note taking spaces in the hope that a few others might join in, Developing Open Online Courses in Australia.

And now for something from a time when the common good and forth estate were more important, Lyndon Johnson and the signing of the Voting Rights Acts.


Cameron Nichol said...

From my observations the major factor stifling teaching innovation is the almost suicidal (from a business perspective) preoccupation with research output.
"No promotion in pedagogy" is the mantra in Australian universities.

Glen Speering said...

These are valid ideas.

But the economic rationalist paradigm that we're in dominates thinking. Such as, "regulation is stifling". Which is code for admitting incompetence.

No-one wants to be the first in such a conservative space unfortunately, for the reasons we've discussed previously.

It's good that you're actually in a space where you can put up and debate these ideas now though. Rather than in a unit of one of the most bureaucratic and controlling institutions in Australia.

Leigh Blackall said...

Just finished reading through Higher Education Support Act (HESA2003), and apart from money being attached to enrollment census dates, I saw little else that obstructs development. More detailed highlights and notes are on my Diogo page, linked in the post.

Now reading TEQSA 2011...

Leigh Blackall said...

Diigo annotation: http://diigo.com/0tn2j

Leigh Blackall said...

There are two main areas in TEQSA2011 that I see mildly impacting development.

1. The accreditation happens at course level only, leaving subjects or units of study beholden to their relationship to courses. (Courses are defined as leading to an Australian qualification or certificate of study). However, the ability of a provider to self accredit may in effect be the flexibility needed to be able to quickly get new units up.

2. There's a reference to Higher Education Standards Framework, and I haven't yet seen the detail of this.

Notes on TEQSA2011 here: http://diigo.com/0tn35