Campus Review: New website not quite the face universities want to show (Australia)

By Susan Woodward for Campus Review

The Australian government’s new MyUniversity website has created a face for the country’s higher education and conveyed it to the world. Trouble is, it’s not an accurate reflection, according to the sector. Universities Australia (UA) could give only “cautious support” when tertiary education minister Chris Evans launched the site this week. The organisation’s chief executive, Belinda Robinson, said MyUniversity was riddled with erroneous information and data that lacked the context prospective students needed – especially international students. “People around the world are going to be looking to this website not just in terms of making choices between universities, but in considering their choice to study in Australia at all,” Robinson told Campus Review. “It really is incumbent on that website to be the best and the most accurate it can possibly be.”

Specifically, UA is concerned about the accuracy of comparative information on attrition rates and staff-to-student ratios at the nation’s 39 universities. The organisation also says that course mapping and searchability functions are lacking as well. “It doesn’t really tell students anything about the quality of the classroom experience that they can reasonably expect,” Robinson said. She warned students and their parents that MyUniversity was not a one-stop shop and encouraged them to seek deeper information directly from institutions.

The Gillard government had committed to launching the A$1.5 million (£974,000) MyUniversity site, which follows the controversial yet popular MySchool sister platform, by January. The site was built within Evans’ department with data collected through the Higher Education Information Management System, including information on tuition fees, courses, scholarships, student services, cut-off scores and student-satisfaction and graduation-destination surveys.

The government has touted MyUniversity as a way to ensure accountability in the new demand-driven system. But the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), which has offered some of the harshest criticism of the site by saying it provides little more than league tables, disputes the claim. “I don’t really see the need for a site like this; I don’t think it adds to the capacity of the people to make informed choices, nor is it a way of addressing the issue of quality in higher education,” said Jeannie Rae, NTEU president. “There are multiple ways that we try to assure the quality of higher education, the most important ones are by the quality of the teaching and learning programmes…So arguing that it is part of a quality-assurance measure is not really convincing.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) said it supported the introduction of as much information for students as possible, especially in an independent form that went beyond universities peddling their brands. “We would not want data being displayed on a government website to have been tweaked by universities to paint the best picture of the degree they offer,” said Donherra Walmsley, NUS president. “We think it’s very important that all data are collected in a uniform way, so [they provide] a clear and accurate picture of what students can expect if they choose to attend that university.”

She said that the NUS would like the next iteration of MyUniversity to break down general versus academic staff to give students a much better idea of class size, and to specify whether the campus services listed were run by students or the university. “Students have a right to know whether they will be enrolling at a campus with a culture of student-run student life and student services,” Walmsley said. While it’s not clear that a neutral authority such as MyUniversity is something universities ever wanted, it’s certainly something that they will have to live with for at least the near future. “I think it’s unfortunate that it’s gone ahead with the problems that it does have still afflicting it,” said the UA’s Robinson. “Nevertheless, the government has committed to working with us to ensure [that] those problems are addressed as quickly as possible and [has said that] it will be subject to ongoing review and continual improvement.”

The Group of Eight research-intensive universities declined to comment about MyUniversity.

Source: Times Higher Education