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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1277

(Question No. 1330)

Senator Margetts asked the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, upon notice, on 27 Apri1 1994:

  (1) Please explain the fact that there is a near perfect correlation of 0.99 between funding allocations under the quality assurance review and larger, older, wealthier universities with large research capabilities.

  (2) In the face of serious criticism about the methodology and transparency of the quality assurance review of Australia's universities, is the Government considering changes to the procedures for the 1994 audit or even considering delaying that review until the criteria and procedures are more refined.

  (3) Are universities going to be told in detail how and why they were ranked as they were.

  (4) For the universities that view the quality assessment as a false reflection of their quality of research, teaching, learning outcomes and level of community service, what will the Government be doing to rectify the damage to these universities' reputations.

  (5) Can you explain the ranking of Murdoch University in Western Australia in 5th place when it has the highest qualified staff in the State and one of the top research outputs per capita in the nation.

  (6) Given the feedback Murdoch University has received from the quality assurance review is that, in order to improve its rank, collegiality between staff and students should be diminished, more distance should be manufactured and a corporate managerial style preferably imposed, does the Government believe this approach will truly benefit student education.

  (7) Will the Government review its decision to stop mechanism B research funding in 1994 for ex-CAE's in developing their research potential in light of the inequitable distribution of research funding through the quality assurance review of universities.

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

  (1) The Government established the Committee for Quality Assurance in Higher Education to conduct reviews of universities' quality assurance practices and outcomes and to advise on the allocation of the additional funds available for this purpose.

  From the outset the quality assurance program set out to recognise institutions with a high level of performance. Those institutions best able to demonstrate effective quality assurance processes and excellent outcomes would receive the additional funding. This approach was emphasised in the guidelines issued by the Committee to institutions wishing to participate in the program.

  All institutions in the Unified National System volunteered to participate in the program and agreed to have their processes and outcomes in teaching and learning, research and community service assessed within the context of their mission and goals. Equal emphasis was placed on the three key functions—teaching and learning, research and community service and on processes and outcomes in conducting the assessments. The Committee found that there is a positive relationship between strong outcomes in teaching and research. This is not a causative relationship, but indicates that the two tend to be found together.

  (2) The Committee is undertaking discussions with interested parties, including the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, on the guidelines for the second round. The outcomes of these discussions will be taken into account when I am approving the Guidelines for the next round.

  (3) All universities have received feedback from the Committee on the outcomes of the 1993 reviews. They have also been provided with an opportunity by the Committee to comment on the 1993 review process.

  (4) The quality program was concerned with recognising high quality outcomes and processes. In its report the Quality Committee specifically stated that it did not believe that the information available to it could justify individual rank-ordering by institution. It is the institutions themselves who have chosen to make ranking an issue.

  At the same time, the Committee's overall finding was that the quality across the higher education system in Australia is high with a commitment to, and achievement in, the development of quality processes and significant evidence of excellent outcomes in all universities.

  (5) While the Committee recognises that highly qualified staff are an important input to a university's performance, its principal focus was on the quality assurance processes and excellence of the universities' outcomes in this exercise.

  With regard to the assessment of research output the Committee is aware that there are several ways of calculating research productivity. One of these is on a per capita basis. This is a calculation which tends to favour those universities which have not experienced significant amalgamation with institutions from the former CAE sector. The Committee had regard to these factors in its final judgements.

  (6) Sound corporate management practices and a collegial approach to decision making are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. The Committee has not proposed any particular management model to the universities; rather it has suggested that it is their responsibility to demonstrate good quality assurance processes. Processes such as systematic feedback mechanisms directly benefit key stakeholders such as students who are one of the beneficiaries of this program.

  (7) The quality assurance program was designed to recognise institutions with a high level of performance in teaching and learning and community service as well as in research. Those institutions best able to demonstrate effective quality assurance processes and excellent outcomes would receive the additional funding. The program was not designed to fund research which is funded primarily through the Australian Research Council. The Government is mindful of the research infrastructure issue.