Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Paul Ramsden, Chief Executive of the UK Higher Education Academy, is discussing changes to the way universities plan courses and reward teaching staff. Professor Ramsden's paper "The Future of Higher Education - Teaching and the Student Experience" is available online, along with appendices and bibliography. He will give another talk tomorrow.
Much of what Professor Ramsden discusses is applicable to Australia. Professor Ramsden commented that the Australian response to the Bradley Report was more radical than its UK equivalent. He asserted that students need to feel part of a community of scholars, rather than just customers of service delivery. He went on to show a graph from the Bradley Review which showed that Australian students were much less satisfied with what they get from education than UK students. This is worrying particularly where Australian universities are relying on international students who can choose to go to another country.
Professor Ramsden asserted that a revolution in education was needed. One area for improvement was better description of course and more relevant assessment. Traditional descriptions of degrees are of little value, as are transcripts. He propose a higher education achievement report. None of this seems new or radical to me after having to prepare a golbally accredited professional course for the ACS which is described in terms of a standard set of skills for the profession.
Professor Ramsden pointed out that for many years teaching was seen as important but little had been done about it. However, apart from saying this was worrying, he did not appear to have any solutions to propose.
Professor Ramsden described overspecialisation in curriculum as a "disease". He called for more cross disciplinary work. He also argued for an international perspective. This seems like a solved problem to me, as I have international students in my Green ICT course. Some of these students are in Australia, others online around the world.
Professor Ramsden said that UK students have the expectation unviersity will be like school, with a spoon-fed program with lots of staff contact, whereas they should expect to learn to read and research themselves. He commented that he was worried by Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), which may reduce the scope for student input into courses.
A nice thought. However, in my experience (one U.S. university; two AU universities), the bulk of students are doing what I call ''the least-painful major'', so they can go get the magic certification and get an office job in the city. Sure, they'd prefer it to be interesting -- but a large proportion are only learning the stuff because you're forcing them to: if you just said, "Look, pay us the money, and we'll give you a passing mark" -- how many of them would take you up on the offer?
It used to be you needed a H.S. degree to get a good job; now it's a B.A.; pretty soon it'll be a Masters degree...
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