Teaching & learning

Uni teaching grants announced

Universities Australia    |     7 July 2015


The Office for Teaching and Learning has handed out $4.7 million for grants and fellowships in what is likely to be its last funding round before it is wound up and its  role is transferred a new university-based organisation.



The $4.7 million in grants announced by education minister Christopher Pyne  were:

  • $3.2 million for nine grants supporting leading academics to develop and drive innovation in higher education teaching and learning in key priority areas; and
  • $1.5 million for 11 OLT fellowships which will lead change to improve graduate capabilities and enhance the experience of students in Australian higher education.

The 2015-16 Federal Budget announced that funding for the OLT will cease and a new university-based institute will be established with reduced funding from July next year.

Deputy Chief Executive of Universities Australia Anne-Marie Lansdown said that it is critical that the new institute continues the much needed specialist work performed by the OLT.   She said the OLT, along with its predecessor – the Australian Learning and Teaching Council – has propelled Australia to prominence in teaching excellence.

The Government must ensure that when the new institute takes over from the OLT, it builds on the legacy of the Office by continuing to deliver quality grants and programmes that strengthen Australian university teaching and learning.

With rapid changes in technology and in how teaching is delivered, it is particularly important to pursue innovation in teaching and learning, which these grants encourage.

The new institute needs to drive innovative ideas and approaches benefiting teachers and students for some time to come.


TDA National Conference

TDA Conf 2015


The theme of the 2015 TAFE Directors Australia conference is Inspire.


The conference will explore a range of topics, including fostering industry engagement, market approach to vocational education and training, quality and capability, higher education in TAFE- mission creep?, Internationalising vocational education qualifications, vocational education and training pedagogy and servicing regional communities

 A highlight of this year’s TDA Conference will be the Sino-Australian VET Forum, involving a delegation of 80-100 Chinese vocational education and training officials from Eastern China.


Teaching and learning excellence could be budget loser

Universities Australia    |    11 May 2015


Universities Australia (UA)  has expressed dismay at media reports  flagging substantial cuts to the Department of Education and Training including through the possible abolition of the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) Advisory Committee and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council (ATSIHEAC).



 UA chief Belinda Robinson says the university sector has not been consulted in relation to any proposed changes and will strongly oppose any moves to downgrade the government’s commitment to teaching and learning excellence in higher education, or Indigenous higher education,

The OLT is one of the country’s most respected higher education agencies and, with its predecessor – the Australian Learning and Teaching Council – has propelled Australia to global prominence in teaching excellence.

The ATSIHEAC is due to expire on 30 June 2015. This is the third iteration of the Government’s official advisory body for Indigenous higher education policy and practice, and was specifically charged with formulating an implementation plan for the recommendations from the 2012 Behrendt  Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People . 

UA says the winding down of the ATSIHEAC must not be allowed to result in any diminution of the Government’s commitment to increasing opportunities and the participation of Indigenous people in higher education.

Busting the “big government” myth

The first School in the Cloud opens

2 January 2014


Located inside George Stephenson High School in Killingworth, England, this one-room learning lab is a space where students can embark on their own learning adventures, exploring whatever questions most intrigue them. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A group of students explores a question at the Killingworth School in the Cloud, as a volunteer member of the “Granny Cloud” gives them guidance from the screen.

Students even designed the interior of the space — which has colorful beanbags scattered throughout and (very appropriately) fluffy clouds painted on the walls.

On the glass doors of the lab is the acronym SOLE, which stands for Self-Organized Learning Environment. It’s a concept drawn from Sugata Mitra’s TED Prize wish, in which he offered up a new vision of education that pairs the vast resources of the Internet with children’s innate sense of curiosity. SOLEs are a minimally invasive education technique that lets kids puzzle through big questions on their own, teaching each other in the process. This method can have stunning results. (Read a Wired story on that.)

The Killingworth School in the Cloud opened its doors on November 22, with a group of students investigating the question: “Who invented algebra?” As the students gathered around computers and began their research, they were guided by an online mediator from the “Granny Cloud,” which Skypes retired teachers into the lab not so much to instruct the students but to offer them encouragement. Appearing on a large screen on the wall, this “Granny Cloud” volunteer appeared almost life-sized.

The Killingworth School in the Cloud is run by a committee of 12-year-old students, who manage a schedule to let different classes and groups use the lab in time slots before, during and after school. The lab is, of course filled with computers and touchscreen devices, as these are the tools students use to do their detective work. This lab is the first live demo of the School in the Cloud web platform, which not only connects labs to the “Granny Cloud” but also serves as a community foundation for SOLE practitioners and contains an evolving library of guides and resources. Microsoft and Skype are the core technology partners for this digital platform; Made By Many is the co designer and development partner; and IDEO assisted with design research.

Five more School in the Cloud learning labs of varying resources and bandwidth are scheduled to launch throughout India in 2014, and the second UK lab will go live in the spring. All seven Schools in the Cloud will be directed by the School in the Cloud web platform and its community of Grannies. Beta testing for the School in the Cloud platform will begin publicly in March at the annual TED Conference in Vancouver.


Catch Up

TAFEs claim funding cuts will cost jobs and millions

 The Age      |    23 November 2013

Victorian TAFEs expect to lose millions of dollars and the education union is forecasting hundreds of redundancies in response to further Victorian state government changes to course subsidies.  But the government insists it has not cut overall funding and is moving to stop rorting in the training sector.

 Kangan Institute chief executive Grant Sutherland told staff in an email the changes would result in an estimated $9.2 million reduction in revenue for next year.

 This is clearly a substantial reduction and budgets across the institute are currently being reworked to take into account this impact.  In the interim, as we work through this, approval for staff appointments will be on hold.

 Victoria University deputy vice-chancellor Anne Jones said the changes would cost it  about $3.7 million.

NSW bill tags TAFE as ‘major’ provider

The Australian   |    22 November 2013

The NSW opposition says its amendment to a vocational education bill will force the state government to back away from plans to open training funds to full competition. But the government says the amendment to the bill, which passed parliament on 19 November, won’t change to its “Smart and Skilled” reform plans. 

The upper house amendment to the bill, which establishes a new advisory body called the NSW Skills Board, had previously been rejected by the government-dominated lower house. But the government ultimately agreed to the alteration, which means the Skills Board can only oversee reform that “maintains the TAFE Commission as the major provider of vocational education and training”.

‘Light touch’ could have weighty consequences, says TEQSA chief

The Australian     |      21 November 2013

Carol Nicoll, chief commissioner of  the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency has criticised commentary on the Commonwealth government’s deregulation agenda.  Nicoll told a Senate estimates committee hearing the issue of “a light touch regulator is a significant one, and one that Australia should not take lightly”:

I would hesitate at the use of the term ‘light touch’.   It may signal overseas, particularly in Asia, that Australia is not regulating higher education.

Pyne touts exam for aspiring teachers

The Australian     |    20 November 2013

Aspiring teachers would need to sit a national exam under Commonwealth government plans to assess their proficiency before entering the classroom, under a plan to be taken to a meeting of the nation’s education ministers  on 29 November .

A policy paper prepared for proposes measures to focus on the quality of graduates rather than the length of their course, questioning the decision to replace the 12-month diploma with a two-year post-graduate degree.

The exam would also allow a shortcut to graduation for high-achieving students.

Vocational course subsidies ‘gamed’

The Australian     |       20 November 2013

Ongoing cuts and tweaking to vocational course subsidies under Victoria’s open market system is undermining business certainty.  And too many providers of dubious standard are threatening quality, according to University of Melbourne vocational expert Leesa Wheelahan.

Wheelahan isn’t alone. A private provider, frustrated by another round of changes this week, said the bar to entry needed to be raised to weed out providers that game the system by simply shifting their operations to wherever they can get the highest subsidy.

The provider, who asked not to be named, backed proposals by the National Skills Standards Council for a tougher system of licensing. Under the system, smaller providers without licences could partner with larger ones that have invested in heavily in being accredited and so effectively act as guarantors of quality.

Piccoli calls for cap on teaching degrees

Sydney Morning Herald    |    20 November 2013

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has called for a cap on the number of students allowed to enrol in teaching degrees to curb the state’s oversupply of primary school teachers. 

Fairfax Media has revealed that more than 40,000 teachers are on a waiting list for permanent jobs in NSW and the oversupply of primary teachers is likely to last until the end of the decade even if resignations or retirements double.

Inspiring university teachers awarded

Office of Teaching and Learning    |    19 November 2013

Australia’s best university teachers have been recognised at the 2013 Australian Awards for University Teaching. Senator Scott Ryan, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, congratulated the 13 teachers for their outstanding work, along with recognising nine individual university programs that enhance student learning saying.

The Australian Awards for University Teaching are a nationally recognised marker of esteem.  The outstanding university teachers and programs deserved to be recognised and celebrated for their exceptional work. This year’s recipients have worked to engage students in active learning and relate their curriculum to the world in which we live.  But as commentator Stephen Matchett notes, not actually not a lot of esteem attributed to  winners, as shown by, for example the awards being presented by a parliamentary secretary and the scant media coverage

CQU ‘comprehensive” not ‘dual’

The Australian   |     18 November 2013

Australias newest dual-sector university, CQUniversity, will instead be calling itself “comprehensive”, with vice-chancellor Scott Bowman warning  that thinking of the institution in two parts will simply create hierarchies. 

Bowman, whose CQUniversity merges with Central Queensland Institute of TAFE in July,  said Dual sector means two parts, and if you say higher education, then you’ve got lower education.   This won’t be a dual sector university. We’re talking about being a comprehensive university.

Canberra University to bypass union on pay deal

ABC News    |     12 November 2013

The University of Canberra has announced it will bypass the union representing university academics and take a proposed pay offer direct to staff.

University management has been in talks with the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) for almost a year but negotiations became deadlocked over a proposal to link pay rises to the amount university funds are indexed by the Federal Government.

A quiet revolution in teaching

At a time of some debate about the quality of university education, RMIT vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner says there has been a ‘quiet revolution’ in university teaching which has seen a steady but significant improvement since the mid-1990s.

Professor Margaret GardnerThere has been much recent comment about the quality of university education and it is a topic worthy of more debate.  As we debate, we should recognise that a quiet revolution has occurred in Australian universities beneath the publicity about MOOCS and world rankings.

This revolution is seen in the steady but significant improvement in university teaching since the mid-1990s.

There have been improvements in various measures, ranging from the satisfaction of graduates with their teaching to the percentage of students retained in in university education.

Each year’s increase in graduates’ satisfaction with their teaching has been modest… but over two decades the improvement has been big enough to indicate a transformation in university teaching.

From 2005, the Australian government introduced a new student number that allows it to count as ‘retained in higher education’ students who enroll in another institution.  Once this adjustment is made, there is a marked increase in the retention rate from 84.6 (%?) in 2005 to 86.9 (%?) in 2011.  University teaching has improved despite variable, but overall flat, base real funding per student and steadilyincreasingly student-staff ratios since 1990, from under 15 students per academic for much of the 1990s to more than 20:1 in 2009.

This improvement has occurred even though there has not been substantial performance funding   to boost teaching, nor does teaching earn the reputational rewards that university rankings give to research.

The steady improvement in university teaching in Australia is due to a mutual reinforcing combination of several factor.

The first, and most important, is academics’ commitment to their discipline and their students.

Academics make considerable investment in, and sacrifice for, their careers for several reasons, but high among many is their love of their discipline and their wish to advance it among students and other scholars.

Whatever grumbles  are made about students from time to time, as other professionals moan about their clients, overwhelmingly academics  want their students to do well and are committed to contributing to that by improving their teaching.

A second important factor has been robust measures of the quality of courses and teaching, and their deployment throughout universities in a way that supports teaching improvement.

This started with Paul Ramsden’s development of the national course experience questionnaire in the early 1990s…The widespread university use of CEQuery, developed by Geoff Scott, to help educators analyse graduates’ comments in student surveys (and explain the reasons behind their ratings) has built on this base.

Each university has adopted similar surveys of their students’ satisfaction with their subjects and teaching, and these are examined at least annually by the academics themselves as well as by the heads of their programs, departments or schools.

A third crucial factor improving Australian universities’ teaching has been the contribution of the Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT).  The OLT is the direct successor of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (2008-2011), and was previously known as the Carrick Institute, formed in 2004.  The OLT’s grants for academics and professional staff to investigate, develop and implement innovations in learning and teaching are assessed by peers and accorded the same status as peer evaluated research grants, greatly enhancing the standing of scholarship and innovation.

The office’s prestigious fellowships support leading educators to make institution or sector-wide improvements fellowships support leading educators to make institution or sector-wide improvements in teaching.  There is now a significant network of current and former fellows who provide continuing advice and support on teaching excellence across higher education in Australia and beyond.

The OLT continues the longstanding awards for outstanding contributions to student learning and for teaching excellence. These high-profile celebrations of achievements reward and encourage leadership min improving teaching and learning.  The reports, including good practice reports, on the office’s website, are valuable resources.

These factors have resulted in several improvements in universities’ learning and teaching.  Many disciplines now have significant resources to draw on to improve educational standards and teaching from engineering to accounting to clinical practice.  These builds on longstanding attention to the first-year experience, work-integrated learning and the incorporation of graduate attributes into learning outcomes, all of which improve students’ learning and their experience.   These communities of academics committed to building academic integrity, improving English language and cultural competencies.

In recent times the blending of online technologies with on-campus study, called hybrid teaching, and learning in the US (where it seems less widespread), has been a major focus. Other new technologies

Have also been incorporated into traditional teaching and learning such as online submission of assignments, originality checks, marking rubrics and embedded voice and text comments that align assessment and feedback with the syllabus and learning goals.

There is, to my knowledge, no Australian university without a learning management system that holds online materials and supports online interaction with students.

Together online technologies enable learning analytics that universities use to identify early – and precisely what – promotes learning for students.

None of these changes has disrupted universities but collectively the sophistication in understanding teaching and learning has increased and outcomes have improved.  And while we don’t yet measure learning and teaching internationally in rankings as we do research, if we did we might well be surprised at the quality of the learning experience Australian universities provide their students.

The revolution may be quiet but it is profound.

 This article by RMIT vice-chancellor Margaret Garner  was first published in the Australian Financial Review   Monday 28 October 2013.

ANU to review tutorial phase out

Canberra Times    |   6 August 2013

TANUhe Australian National University has agreed to review its decision to cancel tutorials in its College of the Arts and Social Sciences CASS), following widespread opposition from undergraduates and postgraduates as well as the National Tertiary Education Union.

Students within the college were informed last Wednesday (31 July)  an executive decision had been made to phase out tutorials in favour of large interactive workshops and forums with CASS Associate Dean Royston Gustavson saying:

Such a model reconfigures current contact hours in a way that is intended to have a positive educational impact. Such forums/workshops are typically run by the course lecturer, rather than tutors, thereby giving students a significantly increased opportunity to interact with their lecturer. Nevertheless, it is recognised that any change can be difficult for those going through it.

He also warned that for courses that continued to use tutorials, ”funding constraints may see tutorial sizes increase from 15 to 20 students, but such a tutorial size has been standard in some other parts of the university for many years.”

The decision  sparked  criticism from students concerned the change would impact the quality of education on offer and from the NTEU.

Now ANU deputy vice-chancellor (Academic) Marnie Hughes-Warrington will head up a review of the change which will be given to university management next month.

 NTEU ACT Divisional Secretary, Stephen Darwin said that although the NTEU welcomed

 …..this hasty retreat from the ill-considered decision to reduce student engagement, the proposed review must also consider the actual reason which prompted it – the chronic underfunding of the College which meant it simply had no tutorial budget for 2014.   Quality education requires proper funding, not the forced compromises which are the inevitable outcome of ever-reducing budgets.

The Australian Higher Education Supplement 31 July 2013

High wiredThis is The Australian‘s own summary of lead items in its online edition. As this is a subscription service, you or your organisation will need to have a subscription to The Australian to view the full article.

Bosses decry skills quality
Andrew Trounson A LEAKED Victorian government-commissioned survey has found that employers are losing faith in the quality of training qualifications.
On Coursera to the future
Julie Hare TWO more Group of Eight universities will sign up with education technology platform Coursera today.
Swinburne succeeds where Monash failed
Julie Hare SWINBURNE University has won a week-long ban on all industrial action in the Fair Work Commission.
Assessment change to reflect variety
Andrew Trounson A REVIEW of Queensland’s senior school assessment could spark a nationwide shake-up of the way universities select school-leavers.
Carr cool on impact study
Andrew Trounson KIM Carr has stuck to his guns on measuring research impact, reiterating his concerns that the effort will not be worthwhile.

Click here for all headlines


Blinkered by the Go8 way
Daryl Le Grew CAN the behemoths bridge the enterprise gap fast enough?
MOOCs: the iTunes of academe
Sean Gallagher and Geoffrey Garrett IT’S a new method of delivery alongside the traditional campus.
More Opinion

 Former UWA academic to lead UCD
Murdoch appoints new chancellor
 Vogts to head John Grill Centre


Reaping what’s been sown
Humanities, jobs and long-term outcomes
Living in la-la land?

Uni teaching needs to be taken seriously: Grattan

Grattan Institute    |     21 July 2013

grattan_logo10The 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 andrew_nortondeveloping 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.

NCVER News #306 — Latest News from NCVER 13 June 2013

NCVER Newsletter    |     13 June 2013


22nd National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference (No Frills)

In addition to a number of practical workshops on offer, this year’s conference program offers a wide variety of presentations relating to research and practitioner experience in the VET sector. Topics include VET in Schools, literacy and numeracy, social equity, student aspirations, intergenerational mobility, the merits of mentoring, data quality and accessibility, the effectiveness of mid-level qualifications and e-learning’s contribution to workforce development.

To download a copy of the program,  go HERE.

Discussants confirmed for ‘Intergenerational mobility: new evidence from LSAY’ webinar

A free webinar presented by Gerry Redmond, Director, Flinders Institute of Public Policy and Management at Flinders University on ‘Intergenerational mobility: new evidence from LSAY’ will be held on Tuesday, 18 June 2013.

Michelle Potts and Professor Johanna Wyn will join the webinar as discussants. Michelle is currently a Principal Social Policy Officer with the Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology (DFEEST) in Adelaide, where her role has a strong focus on disadvantaged learners. Johanna is Director of the Youth Research Centre at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne.  She leads the Life Patterns longitudinal study of Australians.

For more information and to register for this free webinar, go HERE.

Just off the press …

Australian vocational education and training statistics: students and courses 2012 – preliminary data

This publication presents preliminary figures on the number of students, subject enrolments, hours of delivery and full-year training equivalents relating to Australia’s public vocational education and training system in advance of the release of the more detailed publication in early July 2013….[READ MORE]…..

Student income support and education and training participation in Australia

This research reports on the effects of Youth Allowance using data from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY). It employs a range of econometric techniques to address the fact that the targeted nature of Youth Allowance means that those eligible have different characteristics from those who are not, and makes particular use of the tertiary entrance scores collected in the survey. The results find that Youth Allowance does not appear to increase the proportion of the eligible population going on to full-time tertiary study after school. However, Youth Allowance substantially improves course completion rates…..[READ MORE]…..

Training and its impact on the casual employment experience

For most, casual employment is a relatively temporary state with the proportion of people who are employed casually being stable over the last 15 years at around 20% of the working-age population. There are some though for whom casual employment is a more enduring state. This report investigates issues around this subject using data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey. The authors find the impact of training per se on helping to move individuals from casual employment to more permanent work was minimal, as was the impact of training on an individual’s satisfaction with their job and or life…..[READ MORE]…..