Australian vice chancellors have rejected new quality checks proposed by the federal Higher Education Council and have called for a single, simple set of performance indicators that might be used to improve institutional efficiency.
The Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee urged the council to abandon a plan involving a highly complex set of 80 quality- performance indicators.
A 13-page draft matrix setting out the indicators alarmed the vice chancellors when they saw it, not only because of its size and complexity but also because the council gave them two weeks to check the data for their institution and add any figures that were missing.
The matrix covers five "key" areas: teaching and learning, research, community service, management and equity. The indicators range from demand for undergraduate and postgraduate places, credit transfer arrangements and the number of international students, tostudent retention, growth in research income and the upgrading of staff qualifications.
The vice chancellors, however, saw the matrix as too impossibly complex to be useful in comparing institutions or recording changes in the sector over time. They also complained that the bureaucratic demands on their own staff to supply information were too heavy and costly.
An AVCC spokesman said the vice chancellors were bemused that both the council and the federal education department were developing separate performance indicators for quality assurance.
He said that the committee would be happy to work with the department in producing one set of indicators and would prefer the HEC to scrap its plans.
After Victoria's vice chancellors complained to the state minister for tertiary education, Phil Honeywood, he called on the federal government to instruct the council to revise its proposal. Mr Honeywood then wrote to the new federal education minister, David Kemp, seeking to have changes made in the matrix.
"Vice chancellors expressed concern to me about the complexity of the draft quality matrix which will simply bog institutions down in paper work," Mr Honeywood said. "At a time when the government says universities should have greater autonomy, the council is demanding excessive information from them."
The range and volume of detail required by the council would produce a document that local or foreign students would find impossible to use in choosing a university course, he said. It would be much simpler to restrict the matrix to eight or ten nationally and internationally agreed indicators of performance.
Early in 1994, universities were outraged when the then Department of Employment, Education and Training produced a five-page chart detailing the "diversity and performance" of the sector. The chart set out 50 indicators for all institutions and these covered students, staff, finances and teaching and research, but institutions complained some of the data was misleading.
In the council's latest matrix, several new performance indicators were added. These included the intake and distribution of new staff and the proportion of "equity groups" among them; access to libraries expressed as the ratio of available study seats to students numbers; international interactions and international visits or exchanges; and community partnerships ("formal partnerships that are of mutual benefit or of predominant benefit to the institution").