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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1276

(Question No. 1328)

Senator Tierney asked the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, upon notice, on 22 April 1994:

  (1) What is the rationale for putting universities that have existed for decades (with research funding for all this period) in the same league table as universities barely 18 months old.

  (2) Why was such emphasis given to research that newer universities were effectively excluded from groups one to four.

  (3) What is the rationale for giving up to $7.5 million to older, relatively wealthier universities and for giving as little as $150,000 to universities that are nevertheless classified as having "improving outcomes with the introduction of systematic processes underway".

Senator Schacht —The Minister for Employment, Education and Training has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

  (1) It was not the task of the Committee for Quality Assurance in Higher Education to rank institutions, from 1 to 36, unlike similar quality assessment exercises overseas. Rather, the Committee grouped institutions into bands of institutions which demonstrated like characteristics with regard to their quality assurance processes and outcomes. The Committee stated in its report that it did not believe that the information available to it could justify rank-ordering by institution. There was, however, adequate information available to it to group institutions and rank the groups.

  (2) All institutions in the Unified National Systems volunteered to participate in the program and agreed to have their quality assurance processes and outcomes in teaching and learning, research and community service assessed within the context of their missions and goals. An important feature of the approach is the emphasis on the institution's own mechanisms for self-assessment.

  The Committee placed equal emphasis on the three functions—teaching and learning, research and community service and on processes and outcomes in conducting its assessments. The Committee found that a positive relationship exists between teaching and research outcomes. This is not a causative relationship, but indicates that the two tend to be found together.

  (3) It should be recognised that the Quality Assurance Program is a program to reward excellence. Institutions are paid a base operating grant to deliver high quality educational provision. Those institutions best able to demonstrate effective quality assurance processes and excellent outcomes in the areas under consideration were placed in the top five groups. A sixth group of institutions were assessed as showing improving outcomes with the introduction of systematic processes underway. The groupings are based on an assessment of, and commitment to, systematic quality processes within the institutions, together with the evaluation of outputs over the range of university activities. This approach was emphasised in the guidelines issued by the Committee to institutions choosing to participate in the program.

  The Committee found that all institutions had responded positively to the program and deserved recognition. In view of its finding that there is good evidence of commitment to and achievement of new and revised quality processes in all universities, the Committee recommended to the Minister that groups 1 to 5 receive additional funding which represents a percentage of their operating grant. The percentages ranged from three percent additional funding for group 1 to one percent for group 5. Institutions in groups 1 to 5 are required to expend the funds to maintain or to enhance the quality of higher education particularly in the institution's areas of strength.

  The Committee also recommended that institutions in group 6 receive an alternative form of funding to increase the momentum for change. These institutions received a grant ranging from $150,000 to $600,000 taking into account the size of the operating grant of the institution. These funds are to be spent on activities which will improve the overall quality of their performance for the future.

  Australia has a high quality university system in an international context. For Australia to maintain its institutions at the forefront of international competitiveness, it is important that we continue to reward excellence.