From where I sit - Wish list for the new term

August 12, 2010

As Australia goes to a federal election on 21 August, there is a scrabble by politicians to cadge votes by chirruping buzzwords and making lavish promises.

But neither the prime minister Julia Gillard nor the Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott seems to know or care what the real issues in tertiary education are.

Despite Ms Gillard's being a former education minister, she has barely mentioned tertiary education. She has said only that she wants a MyUniversity website, similar to the controversial MySchool website launched this year, that will allow people to compare institutions by performance.

Ms Gillard says educational institutions improve when teachers urge their students to "come tomorrow ready to do better". However, she's completely missed the point, which is that before the students can do better, the teaching staff have to be better served.

So, may the best party win. But could the winner at least consider some of the items on the following wish list?

- Permanent jobs for the majority of academics, instead of 50 per cent or fewer. Sessionals' brainpower and experience are being wasted and used up

- Adequate technology for every classroom. I've had to teach media-studies subjects with no access to media; I've had to teach off-campus students with no lecture-recording capabilities (so I had to set up my own, paying for the equipment myself)

- Leaner administrations. Excess form-filling is a waste of time, paper and staffing. This is the third year I have worked at the same university and, yet, I've just had to fill out two sets of the same forms (because I teach two classes) and provide all the same details again. This is the third time this year I have had to do it. Also, regarding admin, an outrage: universities are now charging staff to receive entitlements. An Australian G8 university emailed all staff in July saying there was a new "living away from home" allowance for academics working at distant campuses, but added: "To cover the administration and compliance cost of providing this benefit, an additional administration fee of A$20 (£11.50) per fortnight, deducted from pre-tax salary, will apply to eligible staff". Erm - so we have to pay to be paid now?

- Free parking for academics, particularly if we have to travel to two or three campuses a day. Universities now employ burly bouncer-like parking officers, who are already writing you a fine while you are queuing to buy a ticket. Pure revenue raising

- Compulsory training for first-year students in academic expectations, grammar, referencing and attendance requirements. Academics spend a lot of time on these basics, instead of actually teaching the subject

- Higher English levels for international students. Some get through without being able to construct a sentence. This is bad for them, for educators and for other students. Universities shouldn't run on the back of fees from international students. The emphasis should be on a good education for all.

This week, I filled out a survey for a National Study into the State of the Academic Profession in which I stressed some of these points. I doubt it will do any good. It will give an academic team compiling it a grant, and they will write a report and a journal article. But that seems to be as far as it ever gets.

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