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It’s all about performance

by Marcia Devlin

The Australian federal government has indicated its intention to introduce partial funding based on yet to be defined performance measures.

The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) by the Australian government updates the economic and fiscal outlook from the previous budget and the budgetary position and revises the budget aggregates taking account of all decisions made since the budget was released. The 2017-2018 MYEFO papers state that the Government intends to “proceed with reforms to the higher education [HE] sector to improve transparency, accountability, affordability and responsiveness to the aspirations of students and future workforce needs” (see links below). Among these reforms are performance targets for universities to determine the growth in their Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding for bachelor degrees from 2020, to be capped at the growth rate in the 18-64 year old population, and from 1 January 2019, “a new allocation mechanism based on institutional outcomes and industry needs for sub-bachelor and postgraduate Commonwealth Supported Places”.

The MYEFO papers contain no information about these performance targets or institutional outcomes. Department of Education and Training (DET) webpages provide some additional detail, including that “From 2020, access to growth in CGS funding for bachelor degree courses will be performance based” and that “… performance indicators and performance targets will be agreed in 2018”. The website further indicates that data gathered in 2019 on 2018 performance will be used to determine the funding available in 2020. The information goes on to indicate that performance outcomes will only affect CGS funding for bachelor degree courses at public universities that previously had access to demand-driven funding. Access to growth will be based on each university’s achievement of performance objectives “such as attrition, low SES participation and workforce preparedness of graduates” (DET, 2018). Finally, the website states that indicators will be subjected to consultation with the sector.

I’m reminded of a scheme which many HERDSA Connect readers will remember – the Learning and Teaching Performance Fund (LTPF). The LTPF was set up to reward institutions that best demonstrate excellence in learning and teaching. The LTPF specified that funding allocations would be determined once institutions met specific teaching-related requirements, including probation and promotion practices and policies that include effectiveness as a teacher as a criterion for academics who teach, and systematic student evaluation of teaching and subjects – the results of which must inform probation and promotion decisions for these academics.

Once the hurdle requirements outlined above were met, funding allocations were then made on the basis of a set of performance indicators using a complex adjustment methodology. The performance indicators were derived from: the Graduate Destination Survey (GDS) which considered employment status, the type of work graduates are undertaking and any further study undertaken; the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) which recorded graduate level of satisfaction with their generic skills and with teaching as well as overall graduate satisfaction; and DEST’s annual collection of university statistics on student progress rates.

My view around that time when I was an academic developer and a PhD student was that overall, the LTPF was a good thing because it focused attention on learning and teaching at a sectoral and institutional level in a way not previously seen in Australia. My keynote paper at a Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Colloquium 2007 explained that view. My view now is less naïve, having had the opportunity to better understand the complexity and particular challenges of the higher education landscape in Australia. These include the degree of difficulty in offering quality higher education in a highly competitive mass education context with ever increasing student diversity, and the pace and scale of change in a digital context. Add to that some of the unintended consequences of federal higher education policies  –  policies that have cost reduction intentions and a primary focus on the economic contributions of graduates.  Performance measures now make me very nervous.

Marcia Devlin is Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Senior Vice President and Professor of Learning Enhancement at Victoria University, Australia. This article was commissioned by and was published in HERDSA CONNECT 40/3 Spring, 2018: http://www.herdsa.org.au 

Links

Morrison, S. and Corman, M. (2017). Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2017-18. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Devlin, M. (2007). The scholarship of teaching in Australian higher education: A national imperative. Keynote Paper, Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Colloquium 2007, University of the Sunshine Coast.

Department of Education and Training.