Ideology ends official quest for quality picture

November 8, 1996

The ELECTION of a conservative government in Australia last March saw the end of the only official system of ranking universities, writes Geoff Maslen.

The former Labor government introduced annual quality audits in 1993, which provided some indication of how universities compared in areas such as research and teaching.

In the published reports of the quality assurance committee, institutions were grouped in different bands according to the progress they had made and the amount of federal money they were to receive as a reward. The new government of Prime Minister John Howard, however, scrapped the scheme, partly for ideological reasons but mainly because it saved more than Aus$50 million (Pounds 25 million) a year.

Even before the arrival of the quality audits, Australia had an unofficial assessment system. Each year since 1989, Dean Ashenden and Sandra Milligan, two educationists based in Perth, have published a Good Universities Guide which outlines all the courses offered by Australia's public and private tertiary institutions.

Each annual report nominates a university of the year but it also provides 17 comparative tables which show the relative standing of each institution in areas ranging from prestige and research track record to outcomes for graduates and ease of access.

In the latest report, the oldest universities - Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland, Adelaide and Western Australia among them - are ranked as the most prestigious and with the best research performance. Some of the country's smallest universities, however, were rated best by their graduates on issues such as the quality of teaching and flexibility of entry.

Ms Milligan says: "We believe there is no one 'best' university for any particular student, which is why we assiduously avoid drawing up a league table."

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