High Jumps, Hurdles, Carrots and Sticks: University Responses to Government Initiatives to Improve Teaching and Learning
Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
School of Education
This paper is concerned with the nature, intent, implications and outcomes of government interventions designed to improve higher education teaching and learning, in the context of a complex and changing world. It uses the Australian approach to higher education as an illustrative case-study. The paper reports on the conduct and findings of a small-scale research project in one Australian University, investigating academic staff awareness of, and perceptions about, and responses to, the influence and effectiveness of government initiatives on teaching and learning in their own university. Initial analysis of the data suggests that staff with middle management responsibilities for teaching and learning are aware of the power of the government, and see this as essentially linked to their control of funding. They see the role of senior university staff as fundamentally concerned with managing such external influences, to capitalize on opportunities that support teaching and learning, and to limit potential damage. Initiatives that support reflective practice were identified as the most significant agents for improvement, for example the introduction and enforcement of reviews, and the use of student evaluations. Compulsory training and accreditation for staff with no educational background was broadly supported. Whilst appreciating other strategies such as teaching excellence awards and professional development initiatives, these were not seen as having a significant impact on improvements in the context of courses.