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IRU unis to trial external benchmarking24 July 2012
IRU unis to trial external benchmarking
BY:ANDREW TROUNSON The Australian July 23, 2012 12:00AM
THE Innovative Research Universities grouping are about to trial a system to routinely externally benchmark student assessment, the latest sector move to reassure the quality regulator and the public.
The Group of Eight universities is already trialling its similar Quality Verification System, some results of which were presented to a Universities Australia meeting in May.
Bev Thiele, pro vice-chancellor for quality and standards at IRU member Murdoch University said the IRU's so-called "Academic Callibration Project" builds on the work of the Go8 and is part of a wider effort by the sector to develop its own system rather than have one imposed on it such as happens in the UK.
She warned that the sector couldn't afford, and didn't need, a expensive and burdensome regime. The focus should be on "calibrating" or verifying academic assessment standards across the sector.
"We want a system that is efficient and effective, but not burdensome because the sector in Australia isn't wealthy. It doesn't have a lot of money to spend on this and it has other priorities that are really important," Professor Thiele told the HES after addressing an IRU forum in Brisbane.
"If we are to meet the federal government's agenda to increase the number of low SES students we'd rather be spending money on support for these students to learn at a university than have to spend heaps of money on double checking ourselves when we are confident that we are professional in what we are doing."
Under new course accreditation standards the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency requires that "the academic standards intended to be achieved by students and the standards actually achieved by students in the course of study are benchmarked against similar accredited courses of study offered by other higher education providers."
Under the IRU's system, external "calibration" would occur in line with a university's own cycle of regular five year quality reviews of different courses. It would be limited to bachelor degrees and focus on external reviewers examining a single final year assessment assignment for a particular course or major that best exemplifies the intended learning outcomes for the course.
Three randomly selected marked assessments across four grade levels, or 12 in all, would be looked at. The selected assignments would tend to be those that are on the cusp of different grade bands since they will be the ones where there could be the most debate about the appropriate grade.
The reviewers will be sourced not just from IRU universities, but also from other universities both in Australia and overseas. Reviewers would normally be at level D, and not less than level C. They would be paid $600 for a day's work, which is in line with the rate paid for auditors from the old Australian University Quality Agency were paid.
When the reviewer disagrees with the grades a third reviewer could be brought in, or the exercise repeated the next year, or a more in-depth review could be carried out.
"The task here is to calibrate academic judgements around the standards. We need to be able to cross check with each other to make sure that what I think is a passing grade is what you also think is a passing grade," Professor Thiele said.
She said that over time a single system could emerge that the whole sector uses.
"If one of us develops a system that is scalable, that is robust, that is effective and efficient in terms of the other priorities universities have, then it wouldn't surprise me to see others adopt it. So we might end up, simply by agreement, moving in a similar direction, but I don't think it will be imposed on us," she said.