Appraisal imposed on Australians

June 30, 1995

A national inquiry into academic appraisal has recommended that all Australian universities be required to implement schemes so that staff are subject to regular reviews of their performance.

The inquiry follows a nationwide trial of academic appraisal for staff development purposes. A quarter of institutions failed to adopt an agreed scheme or complete the trial by the due date.

In a report prepared for the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association and the National Tertiary Education Union, the committee of inquiry says universities should identify specific resources for staff development purposes.

The report is the result of a two-year investigation into staff appraisal by the committee which was set up after the Industrial Relations Commission ordered all universities to carry out a trial.

It includes a harsh commentary by consultant Alan Londsdale, who analysed the responses and made a series of recommendations. Professor Lonsdale attacks universities for their attitudes to the trial and says no more than a third adopted a systematic and comprehensive approach in introducing a scheme.

He estimates that fewer than half of all staff, possiby only 30 per cent, were appraised during the trial period and asks whether sanctions should be imposed on institutions that had not taken part in the trial or complied in a minimal way.

The IRC decision requiring universities to undertake the trial followed years of bitter dispute between the then two academic unions and institutions over interpretations of staff appraisal provisions set out in a 1988 award covering academic working conditions.

The unions had become alarmed that a growing number of vice chancellors were planning to introduce compulsory systems of staff appraisal for monitoring purposes.

Despite Professor Londsdale's criticisms, the committee says there were some beneficial outcomes. These ranged from staff being helped to clarify their roles and set goals, to the planning of individual projects, the production of a booklet for new staff and a workshop to affirm the value of teaching.

Professor Lonsdale himself says that to be effective, any appraisal proces must be part of the culture of the institution.

As a minimum, the process must be related to the management of departments such that it "genuinely links individual planning and review with departmental and institutional goals".

"The benefits which have emerged from this trial are those which should flow from good leadership," Professor Lonsdale says. "Appraisal is not a substitute for this; conversely, good leadership accompanied by clear staff development policies and programmes, and a supportive culture, should obviate the need for appraisal-driven staff development."

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