Australian student surveys survive budget razor

‘Good data means better policy’, educationalists stress

May 25, 2024
Source: iStock

Satisfaction surveys of Australian students and their employers will continue despite a budget cut, but the annual questionnaires have little prospect of expansion at a time of increasing demand for data.

The federal education department has confirmed that the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (Qilt) surveys will be maintained over the next four years. The annual studies of graduate outcomes and student and employer satisfaction have yielded a considerable volume of longitudinal data since the programme’s inception in 2011.

The 14 May federal budget reduced allocations to the programme by A$8 million (£4.2 million) over the next four financial years. Budget documents show that provisions for Qilt have decreased by almost A$2 million a year.

Times Higher Education understands that the cut will not affect the surveys as they currently operate, because the government has merely reclaimed money that had been allocated for the programme’s expansion – much as it did in 2021-22, when Qilt lost more than A$2 million of its funding.

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The surveys’ survival will come as a relief to higher education lobbyists groups, ahead of major Universities Accord reform flagged in the budget, but many will have hoped for more.

“This reform is not going to succeed without better data,” Innovative Research Universities executive director Paul Harris told a symposium organised by the Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success. “We’ve got to have much better student data, university data, research data – you name it,” he said.

“Needs-based funding is a genuine commitment from government to be prioritising public money to where it is most needed. We’ve got to be able to evidence that and target it.”

The Group of Eight said the students with most need were those with “multiple factors of disadvantage occurring at the same time. If we have any chance of trying to target initiatives, we have to have better data that allows us to drill down,” said deputy chief executive Matt Brown.

Griffith University equity expert Andrew Harvey said the latest available data suggested a “massive rise” in distance and part-time enrolments, “the two main factors that influence attrition”. But the most recent data came from 2022. “We are really flying blind on a lot of the really critical changes that were happening very recently,” he told the symposium.

The government’s principal advisory body on microeconomic policy, the Productivity Commission, has urged Canberra to give more emphasis to student experience surveys.

The commission believes universities’ biggest contribution to productivity comes from teaching rather than research, and quality teaching can best be incentivised by making student feedback “more prominent”.

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