MyUniversity a good start, but more needs to be done to restore reputations
By Professor Peter Lee, Vice Chancellor
As many in the higher education sector had predicted, the recent launch of the MyUniversity website was controversial, leaving some reputations battered.
The aim of the website is laudable and easily supported, that is, to provide comparative information to potential students about the nature of the educational offerings and experiences that can be expected at different institutions. In execution there are teething problems.
MyUniversity is a multi-campus institution based in northern New South Wales and at the southern Gold Coast, supporting around 16,000 students on campus and by distance education.
The profile of Southern Cross University is atypical. We attract both school-leavers and adult entry students, with an average age of 25. The majority of our students are from regional Australia; many are the first in their families to come to University; we are proud of our high rates of Indigenous participation. Although drawing strongly from our regional catchment we are a significant provider of distance education and attract a third of our students from Sydney and a third from south-east Queensland for this mode of study.
Our distinctive profile says a lot about our capacity to transform the lives of people identified by current government policy as those to be encouraged most into higher education. However it does not fit the tidy profile that much of the data anticipates.
Employment opportunities are greater in our cities than in regional Australia, yet many graduates actively choose the lifestyle advantages of our regions, even though this may not result in full-time employment within four months of graduating – the criterion applied in the graduate outcomes survey. There are also variations within disciplines, for example, visual arts and contemporary music studies may not immediately deliver such a traditional and arguably outmoded definition of employment, with many of our graduates creating their own careers. It may take a little longer but surely this represents a desirable outcome for our regions.
Attrition calculations include those students who switch universities, building on academic achievement at one institution to pathway to another.
University results on staff/student ratios are also affected by the methodology employed. Students taught through collaborations and partnerships in Australia are included in the total student count but the teaching staff are not. This distorts staff/student ratio calculations.
While we welcome the potential transparency the provision of accurate data promises, Southern Cross University believes it should apply to all providers of tertiary education. Already public universities and private providers are treated equally through TEQSA (Australia's regulatory body, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency) so we should be treated the same when it comes to public information sources. Given some VET providers are also offering degrees – then surely in the interests of transparency every institution should be included.
We will continue to lobby for these changes and look forward to working cooperatively with the Tertiary Education Minister Senator the Hon Chris Evans to improve the reporting through this website and ensure the objectives of the initiative are truly met.
Professor Peter Lee FTSE
Southern Cross University
Updated: 06 May 2013